OFT /CIOBNot quite what the government meant by ‘sustainable housing’ - Following one of the largest ever Competition Act investigations, the Office of Fair Trading has issued a Statement of Objections (SO) against 112 firms in the construction sector in England.  The OFT formally alleges that the construction companies named in the SO have engaged in bid rigging activities and, in particular, ‘cover pricing’. 

Cover pricing describes a situation where one or more bidders collude with a competitor during a tender process to obtain a price or prices which are intended to be too high to win the contract.  The tendering authority, for example a local council or other customer, is not made aware of the contacts between bidders, leaving it with a false impression of the level of competition and this may result in it paying inflated prices.

In addition, the SO formally alleges that a minority of the construction companies have variously entered into one or more arrangements whereby it was agreed that the successful tenderer would pay an agreed sum of money to the unsuccessful tenderer (known as a 'compensation payment'). These more serious forms of bid rigging are usually facilitated by false invoices.

No assumption should be made at this stage that there has been an infringement of competition law by any of the companies named in the SO.  The 112 parties concerned now have the opportunity to make written & oral representations which the OFT will take into account before making a final decision as to whether competition law has been infringed, and as to the appropriate amount of any penalties the OFT may decide to impose on each of the firms concerned.

Chris Blythe chief executive of The Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) said: “This is obviously not the industry’s finest hour, and as a result this should be the end of cover pricing…... Clients of the industry are not the only ones to have suffered from bid-rigging, everyone suffers. Other construction companies who have been excluded by anti-competitive activity have been affected as well.”

The CIOB is a member of the Anti-Corruption Forum, led by Transparency International.  The Forum is an alliance of UK professional institutions, business associations and companies with interests in the domestic and international infrastructure, construction and engineering sectors. Its purpose is to promote industry-led actions to help eliminate corruption.
OFT press release ~ Information note to LAs ~ Involving third parties in Competition Act investigations ~ OFT's guidance as to the appropriate amount of a penalty ~ CIOB press release ~ Anti-Corruption Forum ~ Transparency International ~ Online broadcast on the OFT investigation into the construction industry ~ CIOB’s research into corruption within the UK’s construction industry (click on report)

ScotGovWhat house-builders should be co-operating on - A report promoting better design to raise the quality of Scotland's future built environment has been unveiled by Culture Minister Linda Fabiani an architectural & building seminar in Edinburgh.  The report - Design At The Heart Of House Building - is an good starting point for architects, developers and local authorities to work together to deliver higher quality, design-led, sustainable housing and communities - a key ambition of the Scottish Government.

Addressing delegates from across Scotland's building and architecture sectors, Ms Fabiani stressed how the Scottish Government is striving to be more 'user friendly' to developers and others involved in the building process, citing the recent move to bring architecture policy, building standards and planning together in a new Directorate for the Built Environment.

The report's conclusions & recommendations include:
* there needs to be a wider understanding of the process of private sector housing development, noting how design quality has become a more important component in the development process
* the increased importance of using well-qualified designers who understand the development process
* government & local authorities can help private house-builders raise design quality by providing research support for the housing sector on issues such as sustainable design and by ensuring the planning departments are adequately staffed & skilled

The publication also calls for an adequate supply of both green-field and brown-field land to address rising development demand, while noting the need for a wider understanding of the overall process of private sector housing development.
Press release ~ Design At The Heart Of House Building ~ Architecture and Design Scotland ~ Homes for Scotland ~ Scottish Housing Market Review - Evidence and Analysis 2007 ~ ScotGov Housing Statistics ~ Scottish Federation of Housing Associations ~ Communities Scotland ~ The Joint Centre for Scottish Housing Research ~ CAB – Housing in Scotland ~ Housing (Scotland) Act 2006

DfTSaving the environment or just fuelling a world food shortage - The government claims that motorists will be able to fill their tanks with greener fuels now that a new initiative has come into force in the UK.  The move is known as the Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation (RTFO) and requires 2.5% of all road fuels sold to come from biofuels, rising to 5% by 2010.

Motorists will fill their vehicles as normal, but the change is expected to save 2.5m tonnes of carbon dioxide by 2010.  Alongside this, a review into the indirect impacts of biofuels has already been announced by Ruth Kelly to ensure that the full economic and environmental impacts of biofuel production are taken into account in the formation of UK policy beyond 2010.
Press release ~ Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation (RTFO) ~ Renewable Fuels Agency ~ Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership ~ Environment Agency - Biofuels for transport ~ Advice on impacts of Government support for biodiesel production from tallow ~ Defra: Other related reports (scroll down to ‘Biofuels’) ~ Biofuel review terms of reference

WAGWales provides flexible business support - The Welsh Assembly Government is launching a new, streamlined system of business support that will make WAG backing for new or growing enterprises faster, simpler and more responsive to their specific, individual needs.  This new, integrated model will replace all existing products, services and communications channels.

Flexible Support for Business will be by a new Single Investment Fund and dedicated relationship managers will work with companies to provide a tailored package of assistance to help unlock the growth potential of those businesses.

Changes to the national customer entry point have gone live with the introduction of a new number ‘03000 6 03000’ for existing companies and those people wishing to start up in business.  The new website, www.business-support-wales.gov.uk, will become the government portal for businesses in, or looking to invest in, Wales, and will begin to replace existing Welsh Assembly Government websites that currently provide information related to supporting business, including the Business Eye site.
Press release ~ About Flexible support for Business ~ WAG - Business and economy ~ Federation of Small Businesses in Wales

ScotGov:  Waste Food need not just be thrown away - Up to £6m will be available over three years to fund innovative projects to treat organic waste.  Funded through the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP), the Organics Capital Grant Scheme (applications close 30 June 2008) will support businesses in the private, public and voluntary sectors seeking to treat organic waste, with a particular emphasis on food waste.

WRAP will provide up to 30% of the capital cost of in-vessel composters (IVCs), anaerobic digesters (ADs) and thermophilic aerobic digesters (TADs).  These plants are capable of treating organic waste (garden waste and food waste). By 2011, WRAP aim to have established an additional 125,000 tonnes of capacity in Scotland to treat organic waste.

The announcement comes in the same week that the Scottish public were again urged to 'love food' and 'hate waste'.  This campaign is a key part of the work ongoing to reduce food waste and achieve the targets set out in the Household Waste Prevention Action Plan (Scotland) to reduce the amount of food waste from Scottish households by 10,000 tonnes by 2008 and 15,000 tonnes by 2010.
Press release ~ Organics Capital Grant Programme VI - Expansion of Food Waste Processing Capacity ~ Love Food Hate Waste Scotland ~ Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) - Scotland ~ Household Waste Prevention Action Plan (Scotland)

TfLDon’t waste the chance to get on your bike - London’s community groups have until Friday 16 May to apply for grants worth up to £5,000 each from this year’s Community Cycling Fund for London (CCFfL).  Grants are available to help run local rides, events or other small scale projects that will encourage & grow cycling within London’s many diverse communities.

Applications for the first round of funding from the £200,000 2008 pot have already closed, so community groups have just one month left to apply for the second & final round of grants, which are being managed by the London Cycle Campaign.
Press release ~ Community Cycling Fund for London (CCFfL) ~ London Cycle Campaign ~ TfL - Cycling ~ Pedal4Health – earlier recipient

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