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DETR stung by Audit Office's call for greater coordination

The National Audit Office has rebuked John Prescott's department for taking a poorly coordinated approach to achieving improvement in the performance of the construction industry.

The NAO said the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions should 'as a priority' give stronger direction to the raft of initiatives in different parts of the industry, such as attempts to pioneer better procurement processes, more accurate performance indicators and innovative construction techniques. The criticism was part of a report, Modernising Construction, published today.

Architect Rab Bennetts, a member of one such initiative, the Movement for Innovation (M4I), supported the NAO's conclusion. 'This situation reflects the fact that we have a very fragmented construction industry, ' he said. 'My own area of sustainability is looked at by at least six different bodies in six different ways. We have to make it a more coordinated approach, otherwise people won't take our findings on.' The report also criticised the M4I for promoting projects which were not innovative and demanded greater measurement of its results. It included calls for architects to be more innovative in the design of public sector buildings and to embrace closer relationships with construction companies and clients as a way of improving their own profits.

Despite the NAO's other gripes, such as the inadequate level of investment in research and development across the industry and a 26 per cent fall in the number of applications to constructionrelated courses at universities, the report gives broad support to the Labour government's enthusiasm for single point procurement for its own buildings.

Under its new spending plans its own investment in construction projects will account for almost a third of all construction spending in the UK. The NAO estimates that the modernisation of the construction process could shave £300 million from NHS costs; £250 million from construction and running costs for the Ministry of Defence; and about £35 million from Environment Agency costs.

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