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On-line construction register aims to cut out the cowboys

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A government-backed on-line register designed to encourage use of quality consultants and contractors by both public and private sectors was launched by construction minister Nick Raynsford this week. Applicants for inclusion on the register will be probed on their financial and practical performance in an attempt to weed out 'cowboys' and other incompetents.

Constructionline has been created via a partnership between the government and Capita Group, a ftse 200 firm offering support and managerial services. It is spending £750,000 on the network but is asking for a £70-£400 annual subscription from firms wanting to be listed. Under-performers may be struck off the list, which already serves 200 public-sector clients and 11,000 contractors and consultants. The service is free to the client.

Raynsford said this week: 'It is about providing easy access to good and reliable information on reputable contractors. It ensures information from a single source without the need for repeated form-filling.'

Many building professionals complain about the money spent on pre-qualification for projects, said Capita. It hopes the project, which is voluntary, will become a benchmark for the industry and increase the number of public- sector groups using the service by 500 per cent.

Firms will be vetted on financial stability and performance, what they do and how they do it. Database officials will scrutinise references, tax certification and other verification papers, and review performance each year.

Constructionline would be a virtuous circle, Raynsford said. 'Virtue is rewarded: firms go on the list and get more contracts because of it and the public becomes more confident.'

Rod Aldridge, Capita Group chairman, said it was for one-off clients as well as large firms: 'You cannot compel a home owner to use it for their builder, but you can say it is one source of a reputable builder.

'You can use it two ways: to look up details of a company or, if you are looking to refurbish a hospital ward for £0.5 million, type in the details and it will throw up the 10 or so contractors who can advise on that scheme.'

Thomas Gilchrist, a project manager with Glasgow architect crgp, said registration successfully presented the firm to clients. 'The initial selection process ensures clients are aware of the strength of the practice in size, experience and quality assurance, and that we are financially sound.'

Capita is setting up a helpline on 0870 240 0152. The Internet site is at http://www.constructionline.com

Bennetts Associates is seeking outline planning consent for this design for London's Hampstead Theatre. The 300-seat auditorium at Swiss Cottage will have a 'ribbon of supporting accommodation around the perimeter'. The project will pedestrianise an avenue and provide landscaping. Funding will be sought from the Arts Council lottery.

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