However, they are proving slow to use project bank accounts to protect the supply chain.
These are among the findings of a survey of the construction procurement practices of close to 200 English councils, carried out by the Specialist Engineering Contractors’ (SEC) Group.
The survey found that there has been a significant move towards standardising the pre-qualification process. More than 36% local authorities are using the PAS 91 standard questionnaire, which is published by the Crown Commercial Service, and 27% are now using it exclusively.
There was found to be no standard approach to assessing firms’ technical capabilities. Only 6% of authorities put any value on trade association membership while 18% relied on references. 20% of councils relied on information about previous experience and 19% simply relied on the responses to their questionnaires (which may not have addressed technical capabilities in any detail or at all).
Only 11% of councils insisted that tier 1 contractors use standard questionnaires down the supply chain.
Of the two competing standard construction contracts – the New Engineering Contract (NEC) forms and the Joint Contracts Tribunal (JCT) forms – local authorities preferred the NEC for large capital works; JCT tended to be used for small value works.
Almost 40% of councils require tier 1 contractors to use standard sub-contracts.
Take-up of project bank accounts (PBAs) – where payments are ring-fenced in one pot and discharged simultaneously to the supply chain –remains slow among local authorities but interest is growing. Fourteen councils said that they were considering using them.
SEC Group chief executive Rudi Klein said that the lack of take-up of PBAs is generally due to lack of information about them rather than resistance to their use.
Prof Klein added: “I take heart from the fact that more and more councils are now using standard pre-qualification questionnaires. I hope this trend continues because, across the UK, firms are wasting over £1bn a year on needlessly filling in questionnaires and duplicating this exercise many times over.”
SEC Group is urging the government to make the use of PAS 91 a regulatory requirement under the Public Contracts Regulations 2015.