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Monday28 July 2014

Cabe backs RIBA in procurement battle

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Design Council Cabe has entered the fight to overhaul the procurement process, which it admits has been a “besetting problem” for architects.

The move by the charity has spurred the profession to present a united front. And its chairman Paul Finch has vowed to work with the RIBA “to do whatever we can to help”.

Finch told BD: “We support the initiative RIBA is taking on this. We need to address the faultline in thinking about procurement which is where the initial capital cost takes precedence over everything else.”

Also playing a key role is Rab Bennetts, who earlier this year called the procurement process “insane” after his practice lost out on a job to plan a cultural centre in Manchester, despite being awarded perfect marks for its design.

‘We need to address the faultline in thinking about procurement’

Paul Finch

He is the latest architect appointed to the RIBA’s procurement task force and has drawn up a report on the flaws in procurement for the board of trustees at Design Council Cabe.

Bennetts and RIBA president Angela Brady hope to make joint recommendations by the end of the year and are confident they can make a strong economic case.

“Someone has got to tell the government that it’s not working properly,” said Bennetts.

“I spoke to a lot of younger architects at the Stirling Prize ceremony who said they just don’t enter Ojeus because there’s no point — they never get through the first round,” he added.

“Yet a small, highly motivated firm is easily capable of doing a £5 million building and would think of it as their most important project. But if the criteria imposed a big firm you’d get their B or C team. That’s not a good way to manage risk.”

He added that it was also bad for UK PLC if small practices’ growth was stifled.

Walter Menteth, chairman of the RIBA task force, said they would work with the Construction Industry Council as well as RIAS, RSAW and Design Council Cabe to seek the “widest possible industry buy-in”.

Willie Watt, who set up an e-petition which has attracted nearly 600 signatures, will be addressing a Scottish procurement conference later this month. He sits on the RIAS and RIBA task forces.

“The fundamental message is it’s costing too much and that’s a message politicians will listen to at the moment ,” he said.

To sign the petition, go to http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/273

The real cost of ojeu bids

Procurement of the smallest Ojeu project can actually cost the UK more than twice its value, said Willie Watt, founder of the Save Money — Streamline Procurement e-petition.

For example, a project worth £130,000 — the threshold at which a design project must be advertised through Ojeu — can cost the public sector £70,000 to assess and architects £250,000 to draw up a bid.

“The system is so complex the public sector feels it can’t rely on a single person doing the assessments so it’s quite common to have five assessors,” said the partner at Dundee-based Nicoll Russell Studios.

“If you have 100 PQQ questions marked by five people and there are 60 or 70 bidders, it runs away with the money pretty quickly.

“You can do the maths, but this is not an effective use of money, energy or talent. It’s mad.”

The National Housing Federation estimates procurement costs its members £30 million a year, a sum that could be used to obtain £450 million worth of private finance to develop new affordable homes.

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Readers' comments (5)

  • There’s a lot of hearsay and half-truth here. I don’t know where Willie Watt gets his £130k threshold figure from – more like £156k for service (consultancy) contracts. I can’t believe any client needs to spend £70k to assess something of this value, and the costs of Pre Qualification (PQQs) seem to be confused with those of Tenders. Either way, the rants about ‘ojeus’ must refer to the Public Contract Regulations with their purpose of opening up public procurement to fair and transparent competition. Surely we can’t complain about that, or do we want the good old days of councils’ everlasting ‘approved lists’ which excluded opportunities for any newcomers, large or small? The problem isn’t the Public Procurement Regs or ‘ojeus’; the problem is how these perfectly fine principles are implemented by public sector clients. For example, there’s nothing that says you should have 100 PQQ questions and it shouldn’t cost £70k to assess them. The amount of information asked for is purely for the contracting body to decide, so it’s public sector clients who need to streamline their own procedures. Incidentally, why does no one complain about cosy (restrictive) procurement arrangements of private clients?
    Last but not least, the NHF says its members spend £30m a year on ‘procurement’, but with 1,200 members that’s only £25k each so not very much. How much do they spend on Directors’ salaries? And are they really saying they don’t need to spend anything on procuring contracts?

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  • zecks_marquise

    my suggestion for a new pqq system: design out of 10, fee out of 10, that way the most mediocre bid will always win!

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  • Ian why defend a system of this nature? Checks and balances run amok and become an industry.

    A system designed to remove vested interest has become one.

    Too many whispers in ears about doing something for less has made clients insecure about costs. Clients should be more responsible for their own choices and learn something about the services they are about to procure. The real costs of making things is clear when you understand the process and manufacture.

    Organisations need to hire people who take an interest in what they are building not blow money on administrators checklists!

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  • The system is one problem but you cant help but think the biggest problem here is architects

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  • Cunliffe Pelling please substantiate your great mental leap?

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