British local authorities now can take advantage of the same one-stop shopping process for infrastructure engineering and construction services—without having to bid each job—that they have had for municipal buildings under a new expansion of the country's "framework" contracting approach. 

The service, through the not-for-profit company Scape Group, aims to cut procurement costs and save time for a wide range of projects, such as roads, bridges and flood defenses, worth up to $60 million each.

Originally formed as a procurement vehicle by a consortium of local authorities, Scape became a not-for-profit company in 2005 and now deals with around $1.5 billion of work a year, says Scape CEO Mark Robinson.

Scape services range from pre-feasibility to construction monitoring for a typical fee of 0.5% of a project value.

To provide infrastructure work through the framework, Scape signed a four-year contract with Balfour Beatty Construction Services U.K. Ltd. that could be worth more than $2 billion by 2019.

Local authorities can secure Balfour Beatty’s services directly without having to go through European Union bidding rules. That can save up to $230,000 and six to 12 months per project, estimates Robinson.

While Balfour Beatty is available to any local authority, “there are no [particular] projects built into the framework,” says Mark Farrah, the contractor’s northern managing director, “The whole purpose of the framework is to drive efficiency and work collaboratively with the customers,” he adds.

Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council has been using the Scape approach for several years on its $40- million annual capital budget for buildings, says Adam Midgley, head of construction. The approach is used for schools, public housing, nursing homes, and related facilities.

“The benefit of Scape is that you can engage with a contractor at an early stage,” says Midgley. Doncaster now uses Scape for most of its construction procurement after leaving another framework provider that required its contractors to bid for individual projects.

Starting early last year, Balfour Beatty competed initially with more than 50 firms for the framework deal, says Farrah. Half of competitors' bid scores covered quality, and the rest related to fees, overheads and staff costs.

To ensure local authorities get fair pricing, Balfour Beatty must invite bids for individual subcontracts and supply contracts, says Farrah.

“If we self-deliver, we would have to demonstrate that this is the most economic way,” he adds.