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Blow for sector as sleaze row hits Act

The industry has been dealt a body blow as Lord O’Neill of Clackmannan (pictured) withdrew proposed amendments to the Construction Act that would have benefited specialist contractors.

The clauses to amend the 1996 Construction Act were due to be debated next week in the House of Lords, as part of its ongoing scrutiny of the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Bill. The parts of the bill relating to construction aim to improve the operation of construction contracts particularly as regards cash flow and adjudication.

However, Lord O’Neill dramatically withdrew the amendments, feeling it was inappropriate in the light of the current cash for amendments scandal in the Lords.

Lord O’Neill is paid an undisclosed fee as president of the Specialist Engineering Contractors Group, one of the main architects of the amendments to the Construction Act.

The House of Lords said Lord O’Neill had not broken any rules and his involvement with the SEC Group was properly declared during the debate.

SEC Group vows to fight on

Rudi Klein, chief executive of SEC Group insisted there was no issue as far as sleaze was concerned and believed by highlighting Lord O’Neill’s role at the SEC Group some parties keen on carrying on the status quo were attempting to besmirch the case for fairer payment.

“Lord O’Neill has consistently spoken the truth in parliament about the payment abuse that is rife in the industry. He truly believes in the cause of winning fair payment in construction.

“He is a capable and hardworking president, for example, chairing the recent conference on project bank accounts in Scotland. For the work he does, his pay is peanuts,” he said.

With 20 small businesses in construction going into insolvency each week, Mr Klein said the majority of the industry was behind the amendments.

“We will not give up,” he added. “We are canvassing members of both houses to put forward these amendments, which wholeheartedly chime with the Government’s aim of protecting SMEs in the recession.”

Rod Pettigrew, deputy chief executive at the HVCA, another prime mover behind the amendments to the Act said: “We support the Construction Act in the main although difficulties remain, such as better payment conditions for sub-contractors. The Government clearly recognises these issues are important.

“There will be a period of reflection on our side, but we will look at what can be done to put forward our arguments as the Bill works its way through parliament.”