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Diving into the talent pool

Source: Public Sector Executive Jan/Feb 12

A Health & Safety Executive-backed umbrella organisation – the SSIP Forum – is aiming to engage with more public sector organisations looking to broaden the scope of their construction procurement channels, explains Simon Mantle, chairman of the Safety Schemes in Procurement (SSIP) forum.

When managing project risk, there is no area more sensitive than health and safety. Construction remains the most dangerous working activity, making the competency of a contractor one of the most important factors in the selection process.

A vital element for any supplier wishing to make the grade within a pre-qualification questionnaire (PQQ) is supplying evidence of a valid health and safety certification for what is known as a Stage One assessment. There are a myriad of different providers for such competency checks, though for Stage One assessments each one always covers off the same basic areas as required by the Construction Design and Management (CDM) 2007 regulations, even if the wording is different in some cases.

Historically, most in the public sector have relied upon CHAS, a local governmentbacked provider, as their preferred standard of Stage One assessment. However, this has often been to the detriment of contractors belonging to other schemes of an equivalent standard, leaving them shut out from work or required to pay to join two, or more, near identical schemes and deal with the resulting paperwork – a time intensive and costly task, particularly for SMEs.

The SSIP solution

The SSIP was set up almost three years ago to establish a forum for mutual acceptance between the UK’s leading accreditation providers, including CHAS, Constructionline, and SAFEContractor.

Today, more than 25 schemes have joined the forum, covering more than 60,000 contractors, meaning that they should now only need to join one scheme of their choosing.

For clients, their pool of available contractors is now far greater. With this increase in choice comes a huge array of benefits from increased competition between suppliers, to the opportunity to engage with new contractors from their locality – especially helpful for councils and others looking to work more with local supply chains.

The final yard

As can so often be the case in construction, what is most logical and efficient does not automatically triumph against entrenched practices, and so we still have work to do in 2012 and the support from the public sector is critical to our success.

While enlightened clients have aligned their procurement criteria to accept SSIP certification, in many cases some remain fiercely loyal to a particular scheme and potentially reluctant to accept equivalents as valid.

This challenge is as much about lack of awareness as anything else.

The more that we as an organisation can do, alongside our current advocates in the public sector, to engage with more buyers then the more progress we will make.

With every new buying organisation that accepts SSIP standards, hundreds more contractors are saved the time and expense – which for many can run into the thousands of pounds every year – just to apply for work.

Cardiff City Council together under our umbrella

Cardiff City Council was among the first local authorities to include SSIP membership as a criteria within its pre-qualification process.

Operational manager from its corporate services commissioning & procurement team, Steve Robinson, explained how the authority has benefited from its decision more than two years later: “For us the logic of adopting the SSIP as our standard was very straightforward. It simply did not seem fair that suppliers should be made to pay and join several schemes when the competencies they assess are all to the same standard.

“Another positive effect of adopting the SSIP as our standard is confidence that the contractors we use - or wish to use - have been assessed on a regular basis and that their current status is readily available, reducing the risk to the Council of using contractors that do not meet our requirements.

“Local authorities in particular, I feel, have a special obligation to use their own procurement rules to promote initiatives like the SSIP which help to level the playing field for contractors.”

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