Short shrift for subbies

SUBCONTRACTORS might be forgiven for thinking they’d be assured of being properly paid when working on jobs for the NSW government.

But in recent weeks some Hunter businesspeople have been caught out on two government contracts.

Reed Constructions, the builder of the Sandgate section of State Highway 23, has stopped work because of apparent financial pressures, leaving subcontractors out of pocket for large sums.

And now St Hilliers Constructions – a Sydney building firm that was working on a Teralba job for Housing NSW – has gone into administration, again leaving Hunter subcontractors unpaid.

It isn’t the state government’s fault. The government awarded contracts to these companies in good faith, expecting the jobs to be completed and all subcontractors to be properly paid.

The circumstances of each case are different. Reed constructions is expected soon to announce whether and when it might proceed with its various jobs across the state.

And St Hilliers has declared that it elected to go into administration rather than face the risk of pursuit by creditors owed money by an associated company working on a job in Victoria.

NSW Finance Minister Greg Pearce has pointed out that, in the case of Reed, the government tried to help by making progress payments earlier than it was obliged to. He has criticised St Hilliers for going into administration to avoid the risk of exposure to debts of a related company.

But these steps and these remarks don’t help the subcontractors.

With luck, those now out of pocket might be eligible for assistance under security of payments legislation. That process takes time, however, during which wages, supplier accounts and other bills must still be paid.

For the future, however, perhaps the government ought to consider what alternative means might be available to safeguard subcontractors employed on public projects.

FOR some reason, Cessnock City Council never seems to stay out of the spotlight for long. And unfortunately, the spotlight seldom seems to fall for positive reasons.

The latest conflict to rack the council is Byzantine in its complexity, catching up both elected councillors and staff in an unseemly battle of claim and counterclaim that must have many ratepayers scratching their heads in bafflement.

Allegations of intimidation, accusations of improper behaviour and even corruption have been levelled from a variety of quarters, and highly personal criticisms have been exchanged between some senior council figures.

While the council is paralysed in this way it can hardly be doing its job as well as it ought. And the ratepayer funds being expended on legal fees are mounting.

The situation is far too messy for most outsiders to even begin to judge, but it does seem clear that the point is arriving at which ratepayers might be justified in calling for state government intervention.

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