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Damning Railtrack survey 'unlikely to see light of day', say angry suppliers

RAILTRACK SUPPLIERS this week reacted angrily to news that a report criticising the company's procurement techniques would not be made public.

More than 30 senior managers from principal suppliers were surveyed by public relations company Millbank last month. They were asked to give opinions anonymously on Railtrack's performance in awarding and managing contracts.

But interviewees had thought that the survey would be published to match a similar exercise carried out by Millbank for airport operator BAA two years ago (NCE 4 September 1997). This week Railtrack and Millbank insisted this was never the intention.

Interviewees now believe that the results of the survey have been much worse than predicted, prompting Railtrack to suppress the report. One interviewee told NCE: 'The general view is that this report won't ever see the light of day because of the strength of suppliers' views.'

In response to Millbank's questioning, senior construction industry figures are understood to have:

described Railtrack's procurement methods as 'bordering on the illogical'

criticised Railtrack management for claiming that decisions to reduce or postpone work on major projects was due to political rather than financial reasons

complained that Railtrack was taking staff on secondment and then poaching them, in breach of agreements

claimed Railtrack was taking too long to pay bills

Recently appointed head of major projects Simon Murray instigated the survey. He brought the idea from his previous job at BAA, where as managing director of group technical services he carried out a similar exercise.

BAA's survey showed it to be perceived as only an 'average' client by its suppliers. The results were published in the company's in-house magazine, which is circulated to suppliers and the press, as part of Sir John Egan's drive for continuing improvement.

But Railtrack suppliers believe Murray has met resistance from Railtrack chief executive Gerald Corbett over publishing the results of the new survey. One supplier said: 'Even in Railtrack there are the new boys and the old boys.'

A Railtrack spokesman insisted the survey was only the 'early days' of its supplier audit. He claimed: 'The survey was never intended for publication, but we asked for our suppliers' candid responses - warts and all - because we want to get an accurate picture of what we were doing wrong.'

A Millbank spokesman said: 'Companies every week are conducting reviews of the views of their business partners for their own internal use. These are exercises in improving relationships.'

Murray is understood to have written to senior suppliers suggesting the survey is followed by focus groups.

Matthew Jones

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