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Tuesday29 July 2014

RIBA is taking too long to spell out the need to change

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Months spent consulting industry bodies for the report on procurement reform are a waste of everybody’s time

By the time the RIBA gets round to publishing its magnum opus on procurement reform, more architects will have wasted time bidding for work and more taxpayers’ money will have been poured down the drain.

A draft report is now doing the rounds but won’t be published until next month. This makes the finished version five months late — not a great way for RIBA to demonstrate that architects can deliver projects on time.

Why the delay? Partly, it’s the subject. Procurement was never going to be easy to tackle, but the “task force” the RIBA set up now argues it needs more time to consult with other bodies so the final report “reflects views commonly held across the industry rather than being specific to architects”.

Since the RIBA exists to represent the interests of its members, who are architects, this seems curious. But leaving that aside, it shouldn’t take it long to figure out that what public sector work there is is always won by the same big firms (and management consultants) that can tick the right boxes. Some research on which those firms are would make interesting reading.

It also shouldn’t take long to list those boxes and show why the system is unfair and particularly damaging to small and young practices. But all practices risk being caught out by indecisive clients such as TfL.

The RIBA is right to tackle procurement but wrong to drag it out. Its message should be a simple one: the time for reform is long overdue.

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Readers' comments (4)

  • zecks_marquise

    Big firms do big jobs, small firms do small jobs. Idiots go for jobs, which they do not have the skill base to perform. If that is unfair then I am going to sue the national lottery for not giving me a winning ticket every week.

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  • I tend to agree with Zecks on this one.

    The tender / prequal requirements should be appropriate to the size and complexity of the project e.g. a relatively simple school extension can be handled by most practices whereas a new international airport or designing a new rail system would be beyond most small and medium firms.

    Developing the systems to be able to cope with large architectural teams [50+ architects], ten's of sub consultants and thousands of drawings takes considerable time to refine and perfect.

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  • The two comments above miss the point. It isn't that massive projects should be given to smaller practices, its that the latter are excluded even from relatively small projects well within their range by ridiculous, counter productive and entirely unnecessary financial restrictions (e.g having to have £1m+ turnover to qualify for projects with fee values of less than £100k is not uncommon). This means the big firms who can easily tick the boxes, mop up this work too when its debatable to say the least, whether they deliver a better service in the context of smaller projects than a dynamic and hungry smaller practice.

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  • I remember when I started work in 1997 is was entirely reasonable for a new practice who could demonstrate their ability to be able to pick up projects in the £2-5M range. Now at FAT suggests you don't stand a hope going through the normal channels.

    The real problem that this causes is that below this size the jobs become to small to have a well structured programme. To small practices being able to work on projects that are a little bigger and more structured allows you to plan and invest.

    In reality how do we get to do bigger projects. Go for drinks, be proactive - all of our bigger work where PPQs can be short circuited have come about this way - by recommendation.

    I'm sure I'll start a firestorm with this comment, but most clients know that big practices don't provide a good service on small jobs, they just need the route or contacts to find the right small ones, which is tricky given that half of the profession are busy de-skilling themselves.

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