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Wednesday30 July 2014

Architects find Ojeu 'too much effort'

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62% say the process discriminates against small practices, according to BD procurement survey

A third of architects have ruled themselves out of new public sector work in the last 18 months by not responding to any Ojeu notices.

The figure, obtained from a survey conducted by BD and AMA Alexi Marmot Associates, shows the shocking extent to which the profession is dismayed with the public procurement process.

Architects who did not enter into any PQQ since January 2011 predominantly avoided the process because it was “too much effort for low chance of success”. One in 10 were “frustrated with the system” and a quarter blamed the complexity of the application system.

One respondent surveyed said: “The procurement system is about the appearance of a fair allocation of work, not the work itself.”

The AMA/BD Procurement Survey received 427 responses, of which 81% were registered architects. Half of the respondents were from small firms with fewer than ten staff, 27% from medium-sized firms of between 10 and 50 people and nearly a quarter from larger firms with over 50 people.

Responses highlighted architects’ disdain of the Ojeu process, with 62% saying it discriminates against small or young practices and consists of ticking boxes.

Another respondent suggested that “a stronger weighting towards design experience and ability, rather than points gained for winning the bureaucratic hurdles race” would improve the system.

Meanwhile, a quarter of those surveyed said they spend up to £10,000 a year on public sector procurement processes, while more than a third spend between £10,000 and £50,000. Nearly a quarter spend more than £50,000.

This follows on from last month’s research into 362 architecture practices by the RIBA, which estimated the cost of preparing public sector bids at £40 million across the industry.

Its survey corresponded with the launch of its procurement report Building Ladders of Opportunity.

BD procurement survey

-         70% consider the procurement process arduous to complete

-         67% believe is suits large firms or management consultants

-         62% see procurement as a box-ticking exercise

-         5% believe it offers clients good value for money

-         2% think current procurement processes result in the right team

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Readers' comments (13)

  • zecks_marquise

    2% know how to win OJEUs

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  • Yes - I recently read a comment on this by Robert Sakula and he was not the first to lament the fact that OJEU contracts are awarded not on design quality but on the size of the firm, the amount of insurance cover etc. But alas i seems that when the rules were being written at the European level, local architects' bodies in the Member States were not paying attention. Getting the rules changed now, if they even can be, looks like an ardous and unfulfilling uphill struggle. In future, dear Colleagues, I suggest less mindless Euro-scepticisim and a much closer engagement - especially by the RIBA - in the writing of European regulations and procedures.

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  • There can be only one

    I spent a whole week filling in a very complicated bid for the Torquay Primary Schools. Many fee breakdowns, combination fee breakdowns, lengthy and tailored descriptions of previous work and how we could do a great job. Essentially we decided to put everything into it and fill it in to our best ability. We even increased some of our indemnity policies, and contacted clients for written references.

    2 weeks after the proposed announcement date, the council announced they had decided to pull the OJUE and the project would be re-tendered at a later date.

    As a small growing practice it essentially cost us half our salary for that month.

    We havent don an OJUE since for a few reasons. 1) Since April I've noticed that there has been a massive drop in OJUE, looks like the public money has stopped. 2) I scan every OJUE for any 'killer questions', such as your turn over must be +£2m etc.. 3) How can a smaller practice compete with a medium sized practice who has build 5 of the discussed project types in recent times when you have built only 2.. (it doesnt matter that the other office produces ugly boring leaking rubbish, just that they have built more..)

    I do try to stay optimistic, helped by the fact that 100% of our work comes through word of mouth and repeat clients. Personally I would welcome the chance to flex my design skills in some design led competitions... Why can't Maggie run an annonymous deign competition for say 6 sites. They would get an amazing responce...

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  • In case, in my experience, procuring bodies are required by law to use the OJEU process but they often already know who they want. So it can happen that everyone busts a gut and spends a lot of time compiling the questionnaires and putting together a team, completely pointlessly - because the winning bid will be the one submitted by the people the procuring body wanted in the first place. Don't tell me I'm cynical. I've seen this happen many times.

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  • I read Robert Sakula's letter too. He's living in a dream world. This perception that architects should be judged on 'design' alone is undermining the whole profession. Ok the tick box exercise is a pain, but design is a subjective thing (think design review...) and in my experience when it's part of a OJEU process does not lead to the 'best designer' winning the job.

    Clients want good business people - they want a quality product, but they also want a good service and a supplier that won't go bust during the job. It's not about turnover, and in fact the bigger practices end up spending so much on their bids, that their service level is compromised. But at the end of the day design alone won't do it either.

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  • A general shortage of work has significantly increased the numbers using the OJEU and this has driven those assessing submissions into the negative approach of looking for reasons to reject them rather than reasons to select - and there will always be 6 that tick all the boxes. As a euro-system it is unlikely to change but clients looking for bright and imaginative as opposed to corporate and safe could change how they use it. In this respect BD could maybe canvas their readers for options?

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  • There can be only one

    At the moment all our work is from the private sector. We have never managed to win an OJUE.

    We have won design competitions, built £1m+ buildings for private schools, private homes etc..

    I estimate we will need to work another 10 years to gather sufficient projects to win an OJUE.

    In the meantime as a smaller practice we are giving our clients a great service at a very affordable rate and innovative design (shortlisted for the RIBA 2012 awards). It's a shame the public sector cannot enjoy the low cost - high service you get from 'emerging' practices.

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  • There can be only one

    Why not have a selection of OJUE procurement options.. just as there is for Contractors? (traditional, D&B, turnkey).

    We all know that not all projects require a design competitions, but some do merit this approach. We often forget that good design is not all about a flashy concept but about actually adding value to a project. The art of efficient planning, flexible space, and future proofing should be at the heart of design competition briefs.

    Could we not have:

    'OJUE Commercial' - Framework type contracts for utilitarian projects. (sub stations, car parks, retro fitting, restoration)

    'OJUE Design' Equal weighting to experience/fee and design.(housing, offices, bus stations, urban realm, schools).

    'OJUE Open' 2 Stage Competitions with designers names not revealed to the design juror(Stadia, town halls, town squares, masterplans).

    The very discussions a client would need to have to pick on of these would be an opportunity to discuss the benefits of good design.

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  • @ irene1000: it seems slightly extreme for you to suggest that Sakula, a partner in one of the UK's most interesting and well-established practices, is "living in a dream world" and "undermining the profession" and is not a good "business person" because he feels that the OJEU system makes it impossible for practices the size of his, with the vast experience it has, to qualify for tender bid competitions. I suppose it all depends what you mean by "a good business person". I think I know what YOU mean: a Suit.

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  • @skepticalabout...: I'm sorry but as a client I am skeptical about this view. As I said I don't think 'design' will solve the issues. And I don't wear a suit if that's what you are implying.

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