Labour and National’s Finance spokesmen have been quizzed on what they would do to keep construction moving if elected

Changing the way Government procures projects should be near the top of any agenda to help the construction industry.

That was the rough cross-party consensus from Finance Minister Grant Robertson and National’s finance hopeful Paul Goldsmith who faced a volley of questions at the construction industry forum ‘Constructive’ in Wellington at the PWC centre on Thursday afternoon. 

Both acknowledged a desire to change the tradition of companies in the construction sector pulling out the lowest bid to secure a tender then relying on construction variation negotiations partway through to secure more realistic terms.

Some of the blame for this lies with the lack of skilled and experienced procurement personnel within government.

Construction industry professionals have long complained that public sector tenders often turn into a straight “lowest bid” wins contest with more sophisticated criteria discarded or not adequately taken into account.

The solution suggested by both Robertson and Goldsmith was for procurement to be more centralised, but they stopped short of calling for a “single desk” procurement agency that would pool the kind of technical expertise needed to manage tenders. 

Master Builders association chief executive and construction council chair David Kelly told Newsroom there were other solutions short of “single desk” procurement that could achieve the kind of centralisation both Robertson and Goldsmith referred to.

That could include simply making skilled procurement expertise available across many different government agencies. 

“The contractors cannot change that culture on their own. The clients have to change that culture. They set the rules.

“So whether that’s a public sector client (central government or local government) or a private sector client if they don’t get that – and if they don’t agree that there’s value in it – they won’t change.”

National Party spokesman Paul Goldsmith hints there may be more to come from them on the issue of procurement. Photo: Supplied

Robertson referred Newsroom to Transport Minister Phil Twyford on the question of whether he supported calls for a single desk procurement agency.

Goldsmith told Newsroom he wasn’t calling for that right now, but did believe things had gone too far in the direction of allowing every little part of Government “taking a crack” at procuring things independently of one another. 

“I wouldn’t say that [a single desk procurement agency] is National party policy, but we may have more to say on it.”

“We would benefit from a more centralised pool of expertise that people could draw on the in the public sector. There are pockets of it – pockets of excellence – but I think we could do better in that space.”

And while Robertson was inevitably also questioned on KiwiBuild’s future he appeared content to let the Government’s plans for a big house-building drive rest with the “reset”.

Although he hinted a future Labour government might seek to build more affordable housing through Kāinga Ora partnerships.

“One thing I would love to say more of – and again it’s not my direct portfolio it’s just something I’m keeping a close eye on – is just Kāinga Ora using its role beyond its old Housing New Zealand role to be the facilitator of those partnerships.

“There are so many different players from community housing providers through to private sector developers, Iwi, that we actually can be working with.

“Housing New Zealand was very inwardly focused. Kāinga Ora is an urban development authority…we want to use [it’s powers] and develop those.”

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