28th April Journal Column

By Catriona Lingwood, Chief Executive of Constructing Excellence in the North East

 Construction Alliance Northeast (CAN), which represents the interests of over 500 SME companies in the regional construction and contracting sector, recently launched its Construction Charter. The aim of CAN’s charter is to create awareness about the need to re-think public procurement strategy so that regional SMEs get a better chance to compete for contracts in the open market.

The companies CAN represents have a combined turnover of some £3 billion and employ more than 10,000 people – a group well placed to make a significant contribution to regional GDP. 

While Constructing Excellence in the North East represents the interests of all regional construction-related companies, it is a platform for industry improvement and we are big on collaboration, so I am encouraged by the kind of improvements that the charter calls for.  It’s encouraging to see that some regional public sector bodies are already taking steps to implement fairer procurement policies which put local companies first whenever possible.

CAN’s Construction Charter sets out a six-point plan for public sector procurement reform, highlighting the need for a greater focus in tender documentation on increasing local contractor participation, the inclusion of social, economic and environmental considerations, particularly on carbon footprint reduction and the eco benefits of using regional rather than national contractors.

It calls for ‘intelligent procurement practice’, which sounds like common sense, but it has not always been possible for regional public sector bodies to operate in this way due to government directives. For example, during the recession the creation of national frameworks led to many smaller, regional construction firms being locked out and a number went out of business. 

 Next month the North East Procurement Organisation’s (NEPO) Building Construction Framework and its related supply chain will be re-tendered – one of the biggest opportunities for regional firms.  NEPO’s Michael Curtis has been consulting heavily with industry bodies to ensure intelligent procurement practice gives regional firms more chance to win a place on the framework this time.

 he North East LEP is also developing a multidisciplinary construction strategy for the North East to support its North East Strategic Economic Plan (SEP).  The SEP recognises the importance to the region of infrastructure, new homes and work space so a cohesive approach to construction is essential if the target of 100,000 new and better jobs is to be achieved by 2024. 

We all want to see a healthy and sustainable regional economy.  With the UK’s departure from the EU it is just the right time to turn up the volume about intelligent procurement practice.  Sunderland City Council is the first local authority to have signed up to CAN’s new charter, so the first steps are already being taken to reform procurement, I look forward to seeing more following in their footsteps.

For more information on Constructing Excellence in the North East, please contact chief executive, Catriona Lingwood, on 0191 500 7880 or email catriona@cene.org.uk.