The Review of Scottish Public Sector Procurement in Construction, commissioned last October and published last week, makes a series of recommendations about improving efficiency and reducing wasteful practices in a sector notorious for its complexity, and "contentious practices", the review's euphemism for withholding payment from subcontractors by companies further up the supply chain.
The landmark review was conducted by Robin Crawford, a non-executive director of KPMG, and Ken Lewandowski, former chairman of the Clydesdale Bank financial solution centres in Glasgow and Edinburgh. Their research for the 183-page report encompassed hundreds of interviews and consultations with companies, industry bodies and public sector organisations throughout Scotland and the rest of the UK. "We wanted to be thorough," Crawford told the Sunday Herald.
Citing claimed annual savings of 4% or £327m from following an earlier more general procurement review exercise, the report states: "It may be reasonable to expect a proportionally similar level of saving should be achievable from the implementation of our recommendations. Assuming an identifiable construction spend of £3.2 billion, this would indicate savings of at least £120m over the same time frame.
"Taking account of opportunities for savings over the whole life of the project, we hope that it will be possible to set targets for savings considerably in excess of that figure."
Nicola Sturgeon, deputy first minister and cabinet secretary for infrastructure, has welcomed the review, which she said "highlights the difficulties facing both industry and the public sector and presents many constructive recommendations".
Sturgeon pledged a response to the report, some of whose recommendations - like the establishment of "project bank accounts" to ensure prompt payment for subcontractors - are already being trialled, raising hopes of speedy implementation of the key recommendations.
Central planks of the report, which Crawford said was largely modelled on reforms pioneered by the Cabinet Office in England and Northern Ireland, include a rationalisation of the "pre-qualification questionnaires" (PQQs), the lengthy, complex and often inappropriate forms that businesses have been forced to complete when bidding for public contracts.
It also advocates the appointment of a chief construction adviser, an experienced industry figure placed within government to oversee and drive procurement processes, helping to reduce the "lack of confidence" that Crawford and Lewandowski blame for the over-elaborate precautionary approach of inexperienced public officials that slows down the process.
"Fear of challenge has led to procurement processes and costs which are wholly disproportionate to the planned spend," the review states.
There is also the suggestion that the forum of private and public sector bodies brought together in the consultation for the review be continued, to promote mutual understanding and best practice.
Other recommendations include the rationalisation of what Crawford described as the "dog's dinner" of community benefits - a requirement that firms contribute to local areas, which some in the industry have seen as being as less effective in practice than in theory. There is also a strong support for improving the design of projects, taking a "whole-of-life" approach that prioritises construction quality over the long term rather than short-term savings.
Alan Watt, chief executive of the Civil Engineering Contractors Association, one of scores of industry bodies consulted by Crawford and Lewandowski, said: "The report identifies a large number of long-term industry problems and suggests practical solutions to address them and aid economic recovery.
"We have been encouraged by the Scottish Government and its independent review team's thorough engagement with industry - including ourselves - in preparing this work, and although we don't necessarily agree with every recommendation, we believe it is a genuine attempt to improve trading conditions in the Scottish construction market.
"We now call on the Scottish Government to act quickly in implementing this report and thereby assist the sector in the long journey to recovery."
A plan for streamlining of public sector construction procurement, described last year by the head of the Scottish Building Federation as "long overdue", was omitted from a wider review of procurement conducted by the businessman John McClelland in 2006 as building industry issues were considered so complex as to demand separate treatment.
The subsequent seven-year delay in commissioning the review, which implies a cost of hundreds of millions of pounds in wasted resources in the interim, has been ascribed partly to the establishment of the Scottish Futures Trust and the need to allow it to bed in.