21 Aug 2015

Public bodies given poor marks for dealing with contractors

5:27 pm on 21 August 2015

A group of public bodies, including major city councils and ministries, have been given poor marks for the way they deal with companies contracted to do work for them.

Auckland Council's transport agency, Auckland Transport

Auckland Council and Auckland Transport both scored below average in the survey. Photo: RNZ / Todd Niall

The information came out in a survey conducted by the Council for Infrastructure Development.

In its survey, the council asked 90 companies bidding for construction projects worth 10 million dollars or more, how they were treated in the process.

They got 32 replies, including some from major companies such as Fulton Hogan and McConnell Dowell.

Sarah Lang of the infrastructure council said the New Zealand Transport Agency came out top of the rankings.

Others were above average, but some were not.

"Agencies that scored below average were Auckland Council, Auckland Transport, Cera, Christchurch City Council, the DHB's, the Ministry of Defence, the Ministry of Justice, Watercare, Wellington City Council and Wellington Water," she said.

Ms Lang admitted her sample was self selecting and so did not follow usual surveying methodology.

But she said the fact that so many big companies responded, often in comments from a busy and highly paid chief executive, gave the survey some value.

And Ms Lang went on to give examples of comments made by company managers about councils and state bodies.

"Some agencies are just bloody hopeless," she quoted from the report, "no funding certainty, the future work programme is non existent or unreliable and nothing ever starts on time."

Ms Lang praised some organisations, including most Public Private Partnerships, and the Transport Agency, which she called a gold star performer.

But when it came to comments about organisations performing badly, the list of complaints went on and on.

"They are arrogant, autocratic, poor communicators, disorganised, have a lack of leadership at mid level and really poor procurement practises," she said.

"The quality of information is abysmal, leading to variation and extra costs. They are confused and arrogant, they make decisions arbitrarily, they pull projects with no notice."

The problem mainly centred on big construction projects which are paid for by central or local Government, but actually done by contracting companies.

Infrastructure Council chief executive Stephen Sellwood said the tendering process must be improved.

"If you look at the future investment programme of 110 billion dollars of investment in infrastructure in the next ten years, getting that right is fundamental in getting value for money, and the industry is actually quite serious about this because good procurement means better productivity and therefore better returns for the industry."

Local Government New Zealand president Lawrence Yule agreed there was a problem here.

"There is a more risk averse approach taken by people who manage these processes in both central and local government than would be taken by the private sector and that can often lead to delays, extra paperwork and therefore less incentive for innovation."

Mr Yule said his own organisation recognised this was a problem and was working right now to try to fix it.