Constructionline: a review of current issues and future potential

Steele, A, Sodhi, D and Todd, S 2003, 'Constructionline: a review of current issues and future potential' , Structural Survey, 21 (1) , pp. 16-21.

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Constructionline has had a controversial history since its establishment in 1998. As a centralised contractor and consultants database, the system was the initial result of the combination of the Ministry of Defence’s register of vetted firms, CMIS, and the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister’s (formerly DETR) list, ConReg (Delargy, 1999). Unlike the original databases, however, which were both free, Constructionline charges an annual subscription to contractors and consultants to register on the database. The system is owned by the Government and operated by the information services firm Capita. The principle behind Constructionline is that of a single registration scheme which checks the financial and technical status of contractors and consultants for public sector work, reducing the administrative burden of such firms having to complete separate pre-qualification questionnaires for individual clients. Capita predicted that, by the end of 2001, 25,000 firms would be registered and 1,000 clients would access the database. However, by the end of 2000 only 900 companies had registered, equivalent to 36 per cent of its predicted 2001 target (Clark, 2000). Figures from the Department of Trade and Industry for the period up to June 2002 show that client members had risen by 18 per cent on the previous year to 1,432, while the number of contractors and consultants had increased by 4 per cent to 10,501. Although the number of firms registered and clients using the system has increased since its establishment, there are still reported to be major problems with Constructionline. There has been particular criticism of the number and type of public sector clients who use it and the sector’s general lack of commitment to the system. Forrest (2001) notes that Constructionline’s own statistics showed that, of the 900 clients signed up to the scheme, more than one-third of them were “sleeping” clients. In some cases it has been claimed that signing up to Constructionline “is merely a gesture to curry favour with government” (Forrest, 2001). Furthermore, other clients show only “lukewarm commitment to the scheme, making only patchy use of it” (Forrest, 2001). For example, in the case of Glasgow Council’s building services department, while the land services division uses Constructionline for procuring road works contractors, take-up of the register is not council-wide. Similarly, NHS Estates admits that it is not obliged to use the service and cannot force individual NHS Trusts to use it either. A related complaint is clients’ reluctance to abandon their own approved lists: “it was intended to provide a service that would give them an advantage by adopting a practice that makes sense.” Clients maintaining their own lists put that into question (Forrest, 2001). A survey of members of the Association of Consulting Engineers (ACE) reported in the summer of 2001 that 66 per cent of firms complained that they were being made to undertake pre-qualification procedures despite being registered with Constructionline. In response to these and other criticisms, Capita, with central government approval, had developed or at least considered a number of initiatives to increase use of the system, including: a publicity campaign aimed at the trade press focusing on Constructionline’s capacity to increase efficiency (Broughton, 2001); discounted subscription rates (10 per cent) to trade organisations in exchange for their official endorsement and reduced fees for contractors and consultants (20 per cent) who were members of three trade associations (Delargy, 1999); the threat of financial sanctions by Government for those public sector clients who failed to use Constructionline (Broughton, 2002a); the idea of differentiating between various standards of entry for firms with those who pass extra assessments receiving extra star ratings (Clark, 2001); and selling the scheme to the SME building sector by arranging for the National Federation of Builders to carry out technical assessments of its members. Despite such endeavours, recent research by the University of Salford confirms that many of the original problems still exist, confirming the findings in the report by the Local Government Taskforce (2002) (Broughton, 2002b). However, the Salford research did find evidence of the benefits to the construction industry of using Constructionline in terms of tangible financial savings. This paper will discuss the views of the contractors and consultants and client organisations towards Constructonline and, in particular, consider the possible future development of the system.

Item Type: Article
Themes: Subjects / Themes > T Technology > TA Engineering (General). Civil engineering (General)
Built and Human Environment
Schools: Schools > School of the Built Environment
Schools > School of Environment and Life Sciences > Ecosystems and Environment Research Centre
Journal or Publication Title: Structural Survey
Publisher: Emerald
Refereed: Yes
ISSN: 0263-080X
Depositing User: H Kenna
Date Deposited: 03 Oct 2007 13:09
Last Modified: 27 Aug 2021 22:01

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