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Euro bar on Egan drive for value

SENIOR INDUSTRY figures have slammed the Government's Construction Task Force for failing to specify how 'best value' in the public sector can be made to work under European competition laws.

The Department of the Environment Transport and the Regions announced at the end of last month that a new Inspectorate is to be set up to ensure councils apply best value techniques to procurement. The move comes as part of a package of reforms published in the local government White Paper.

But this week senior construction industry sources claimed the push for best value was ill thought out and could lead to an increase in legal action as tender processes were at odds with European competition law.

'Nobody has given much thought to how these new ideas will operate under European law. There will need to be a lot more work done to see how councils can get around either legal challenges or claims from auditors,' said one source.

ICE past president David Green is chairing a working group set up to produce guidance on best value for engineers in response to the White Paper. He felt that many of the ideas being proposed could lead to problems.

'Sir John Egan is recommending that a lot of tendering could be dispensed with, but I don't think he has thought that through in terms of European law,' said Green. 'He has used his own experience with BAA as the base, but the idea that BAA awards contracts without any kind of competition or negotiations behind closed doors is inconceivable.'

The criticism follows last week's confirmation that French road concessionaire Cofiroute will have to re-bid against a Bouygues-led consortium for the £1.1bn A86 autoroute west of Paris after the French Government ran foul of EU legislation.

Cofiroute was awarded the contract as a single bidder after proposing an innovative design which minimised environmental impact in the sensitive area of the French capital. But it was told to leave the site at the end of April after already completing a 200m long tunnel portal and ordering two 11m diameter Herrenknecht tunnel boring machines.

A source close to Cofiroute claimed that whatever the outcome of the re-bid, the French Ministry of Equipment Transport and Housing will face a drawn-out legal battle.

'If Bouygues is the winner, Cofiroute will go to court - if you consider how much money it has spent on this project,' he said. 'If Cofiroute wins, Bouygues will go to court because it will argue that Cofiroute had an unfair advantage by bidding before,' he said. Tenders are due for submission on 2 November.

Matthew Jones

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