Members were presented with the new South West & Mid Wales Regional Civil Engineering Services Framework.
Officers informed the Committee that the circulated report was the third iteration of the South West Wales Civil Engineering Framework; it was introduced originally with just four authorities, however had now been expanded to include Ceredigion Council. It was noted that the framework was essentially intended for a range of civil engineering projects, usually of a larger scale, and was introduced to comply with both European and Welsh Government conditions around grant awards; this would speed up the process as the successful consultants had been through a wide procurement exercise. It was mentioned this also provided Neath Port Talbot Council and colleagues across the region, with flexibility in terms of consultancy provision; direct awards could be completed, however in most occasions Officers would hold mini competitions amongst those preferred consultants. Officers stated that they had tried to build on capacity, and would be including an element around training for apprentices and professionals, who could either work with the civil engineering firms and/or the consultants when the framework was in place; this meant that young people will have the opportunity to move between different contractors/consultants to get the necessary skills and qualifications. It was added that there were links with local technical colleges’ right across the region and across the various disciplines which was a very positive outcome of this arrangement.
A discussion took place in regards to the basis of the framework including the benefits, impacts and the cost effectiveness. Officers confirmed that the reasoning behind introducing the frameworks was linked to streamlining the amount of time and resource it took for the technical staff to prepare tenders each time; there was a great deal of work involved in the tendering process, particularly when staff would have to start again each time on a major project and also the requirement to publish Prior Information Notices (PINs) for each individual project in order to comply with the procurement legislation. It was stated that this process was very long and drawn out, so by doing both an engineering framework and a consultancy framework, it reduced that time significantly. Moreover, it was highlighted that the regional approach meant that the workload could be shared across the five authorities as opposed to having to carry out all the work as one Council; examples of ways of working was provided which included using the other authorities staff and teams to help carry out the process before then completing a joint procurement exercise. Officers added that it also provided some consistency in terms of procurement and management of the contracts for the external consultants and contractors; once they were included in the framework, they could see that they would be guaranteed to have a certain volume and value of work within the region, which meant they could then plan accordingly to build their resources and their supply chains. It was noted that in order for smaller scale projects (those under £100,000 in value) to be completed by the smaller local suppliers within the county, Neath Port Talbot Council would continue to operate their own preferred list of contractors. Members were informed that this multi-facetted approach to the procurement exercise saved the Council a great deal of time in terms of staff resource and allowed projects to progress more quickly, however still allowed for Officers to carry out project streams which would administer and oversee the projects.
Since having carried out the reiterations, it was noted that Officers only had to tweak the documentation for any changes in procurement rules, specification and health and safety legislation.
Members asked how long the tender response rate was currently. It was highlighted that every project was different, generally there was a minimum period of time that a contractor would be given to price the project; they will vary based on factors such as the scale of a project. Officers mentioned that tendering had been effected over the last 12 months across the industry in construction, both in engineering and property, as a result of the pandemic; it had been difficult for firms to get their costings returned in a set period, therefore in some circumstances it had been required that contractors be given additional time.
Following scrutiny, the Committee was supportive of the proposal to be considered by the Cabinet Board.