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. . . but who's going to bid for the work?

Bidding for public sector work is getting prohibitively expensive.

From the 2012 Olympic stadium to the East London Line to the M25 widening, a wealth of major contracts has been awarded, or shortlists announced, over the past few weeks.

But as the lack of contractor interest in bidding for the Olympic stadium demonstrates, rms are being increasingly discerning over what they bid for.

'Undoubtedly bidding has got pricier over the last ve years - it is hard to imagine it getting any more onerous, ' says the head of one of Britain's top consultants.

'The clients are inventing ever more elaborate games. It isn't enough to write a good bid anymore.' He says that alongside the paperwork, there are interviews and site visits to in, all of which requires preparation and takes time. The fact is that firms can only realistically afford to bid for the jobs they are most likely to win.

But knowing which jobs to go for isn't always that easy.

Someone who has been through the bidding process recently is Mike Casebourne, project director for the East London Line's recently appointed contractor Balfour Beatty/Carillion East London Line joint venture.

'As somebody in charge it is extremely dif ult to know which bids you're actually going to win. The reality is you have to decide whether or not it's worth spending the ridiculous amounts of money it costs to bid, ' he says.

PFI procurement is one area that is costing rms dear.

'PFI is phenomenally expensive and there are real concerns surrounding it, ' says one senior civils contractor.

'You can literally spend millions and the clients tend to make things worse by prolonging the agreement periods and generally being slow to make decisions. Then we have bid teams sitting idle, and of course we still have to pay them, ' he says.

'The result is that we look carefully at who else is bidding and if we feel one of our competitors is particularly well placed to do the work, we will walk away, ' he says.

Some are sceptical that the evolution of the bidding process, with new initiatives such as competitive dialogue, are giving clients better value for money.

'It just means that we have to spend a lot more to get through the earlier bid stages, less companies then take part and this reduces competition, ' says the civils contracting boss.

The result is that more companies are relying on private sector work to keep staff busy.

'It costs less to bid and the returns are higher. Plus there is a hell of a lot of it around, people are turning it down, ' says one consultant.

In particular, criticism was raised over framework contracts. Bidding for these can be so arduous that only the biggest players are willing to take part.

While these are popular with clients, contractors and consultants are increasingly walking away from tenders because they are seen as too expensive and too risky to bid for.

But it is not all bad news.

Despite grumbling about the effort required to win work, consultants and contractors agree that the onerous procedures do have the benefit of driving continuous improvement.

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