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Contractors slam government inaction on spending plans

News

CONTRACTORS THIS week attacked the government for keeping them in the dark about spending plans as infrastructure orders slumped and roads projects showed signs of drying up.

They said they had lost faith in the government's ability to deliver on spending plans as its own figures revealed a third quarter slump in infrastructure orders.

Contractors' anger was focussed on roads, although there were fears that progress on letting projects in the water, education and health sectors was also slowing.

The Department of Trade & Industry (DTI) published figures last week showing a slump in infrastructure orders during the first nine months of this year.

'Infrastructure orders in the year to September 2004 decreased by 21% compared with the previous 12 months, ' said the DTI in a statement.

'Orders in the third quarter of 2004 fell by 22% compared with the previous quarter, and by 14% compared with a year earlier, ' it said.

Seasonally adjusted figures at 2000 prices showed infrastructure orders were £847M in the third quarter of 2004. This was down from £989M in the same quarter of 2003.

'There is real uncertainty about what the hell is happening, ' said one major roads contractor.

'It's quite clear that non-early contractor involvement (ECI) stuff isn't coming through and that ECI stuff is going back by a year or more. It is not a happy situation.'

The Highways Agency said this week that only two of the 13 ECI contracts due for award in 2004/05 had been let. Contractors have also been promised tender invitations on nine further schemes, but none have yet been announced.

'Following the outcome of the recent Comprehensive Spending Review, ministers are currently reviewing funding allocations across departmental programmes including all schemes in the Targeted Programme of Improvements, ' said the Agency.

Transport secretary Alistair Darling has also delayed a decision on the A66 Long Newton Junction and A30 Bodmin to Indian Queens (NCE 23 September).

Contractors expressed frustration at the DfT's failure to set out details of its spending programme, four months after the Comprehensive Spending Review announcement.

Civil Engineering Contractors Association's southern region chairman Paul Sivey blasted the government's poor spending record in a speech to contractors, consultants and government clients at the region's annual dinner last Thursday.

'As an industry we have a less clear view of the future than at any time in the last four years, ' he said.

Sivey told NCE that contractors had invested on the back of spending projections set out in the government's 10 year transport plan, published in 2000 and updated in 2002.

But this summer transport secretary Alistair Darling replaced this with a longer term transport strategy with no spending projections (NCE 22 July).

Weakness in the civils sector was further highlighted this week in a joint report from CECA, the Construction Products Association and the Construction Confederation.

CECA's latest state of trade survey, due out at the end of this week was also expected to show contractors' confidence in roads workload at its lowest for five years.

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