Tuesday01 September 2015

Tower Hamlets in procurement dispute

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Council reported to Cabinet Office over £40m framework

The government is investigating Tower Hamlets Council after it cancelled plans for a £40 million construction framework — only to announce it would re-tender the whole deal.

The council has been reported to the Cabinet Office’s “mystery shopper” website, which was set up last year to allow small businesses to complain about unfair procurement processes.

The council advertised a four-year construction framework in December for architects, engineers and other built environment professionals who spent many hours completing a 43-page pre-qualification questionnaire.

The framework particularly appealed to young practices because the turnover and PI insurance requirements were not insurmountable, said Russell Curtis, a director of RCKa and a member of the RIBA’s procurement reform group.

But six months after the closing date, applicants received an email from Tower Hamlets saying the procurement had been cancelled because the “structure of the contract was out of step with current market conditions”.

“The council is therefore preparing to issue a new Ojeu for a contract that will meet its requirements for construction consultancy services,” it said, inviting the recipients to reapply.

Curtis said: “It’s a bit disrespectful to be so vague. Market conditions can’t have changed significantly in the last six months to ditch the whole thing.

“A lot of work was put in by many practices. The council put off making a decision for months and suddenly cancelled the whole thing. I no longer find this kind of behaviour surprising but it is frustrating.

“The people procuring these things have no appreciation of how much work goes into them.”

Luke Tozer is director of Pitman Tozer Architects

Luke Tozer of Pitman Tozer Architects. The practice worked on the construction framework for Tower Hamlets

Luke Tozer, a director of Pitman Tozer Architects which also applied, estimated his practice wasted up to three days, or £2,500, on its submission.

If there were 20 applicants for each of the 13 categories of the scrapped framework, it could amount to more than two “man years” of waste, he said.

“It’s a very poor use of public funds and incredibly costly for the private sector. There should be a process of reprimand and compensation,” said Tozer, who is also on the RIBA’s working group.

Hari Phillips, director of Bell Phillips Architects, which also applied, said: “This demonstrates why we need a better way of procuring architectural services in the public sector.”

The Cabinet Office confirmed it was investigating.

Tower Hamlets did not respond before BD went to press.



Readers' comments (6)

  • ...having been responsible for our office submission, it appears that my effort (along with everyone else) was a spectacular and completely unaccountable waste of time. This procurement method sucks.

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  • Robert Park

    This is not uncommon. I have worked on three or four public framework bids in the last year that have ended-up on the shelf, then retendered.

    Often what happens is that there is a change in senior personel at a public body, in estates or procurement, or even at the top. They then decide that they want to do things there own sweet way, and the existing process is shredded. I sometimes think that top brass find out that the firms that end up on the framework shortlist are not good enough, or not what they were expecting, so they redo the whole thing until they get the shortlist they are after.

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  • on top of it all I was very annoyed about the hastily written letter that we all received. It summed it up. We put in 3 days of time and they couldn't bother to write it properly - and had the nerve to suggest that we all reapply when they advertise the next OJEU.

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  • all procurement questionnaires should star with the following question

    1. Are you Richard Rogers, Norman Foster, ZH, or noteworthy enough to receive a fat government golden back slap and or lack principles as outlined by Will Self?

    If NO, please go to the end and sign your name on the pre signed rejection letter

    If YES, please go to the finance section and put your fees on the pre signed cheque

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  • Robert Park

    John. It's not usually the Richard Rogers and Hadid's of this world that win the bulk of these procurement contracts.

    There is a whole slew of large second-rate practices who can tick procurement boxes, and don't mind playing second fiddle to contractors at design meetings. These are the practices that have the lion's share of architectural contracts in this country. They bid low and deliver the project to extremely tight margins with as minimal design input as they can get away with. Contractors love them, as they are happy to specify cheap and fall into line with their supply chain.

    I don't need to name names - just refer to the AJ100/BD World Architecture lists, and pick out the practices who don't appear in coffee table magazines.

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  • Im sad to agree with John Mortis but my dear wage slaves this has always been the case the rich get richer the poor get social housing schemes

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