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Constructive criticism

Labour mismanagement is the root cause of the Learning and Skills Council fiasco, says Kieran Long

For the practices implicated in the Learning and Skills Council (LSC) debacle, last week’s Budget was confirmation that the LSC meal ticket they had worked so hard to get was worthless. The programme’s failure could not have come at a worse time, but let’s not pretend this has anything to do with the credit crunch. This is a tale of mismanagement and waste that is endemic in procurement in this country, one that seems to be getting progressively worse.

To put into perspective the financial losses the LSC has caused to the profession, the total is equivalent to the combined UK fee income of the five biggest architecture practices in the UK. Almost 1,500 architects are now on the dole, and those laid off because of LSC mismanagement make up around 14 per cent of those, a percentage that is sure to rise.

All this compounds the failures of the Labour government to get to grips with procurement in the construction industry.

In a document obtained by the AJ this week, the LSC revealed a classic New Labour response to this catastrophe. A tell-tale sentence in this letter sent to colleges announced the appointment of PricewaterhouseCoopers to work on prioritising which projects should progress first. It is outrageous that management consultants should be the only ones to benefit from this tale of mismanagement and incompetence. Frameworks and PPPs are problems created by the Labour government. Now the taxpayer has to fund external consultants to work out what the hell to do.

The RIBA has responded strongly, but must do more. Most architectural businesses cannot absorb the huge risks of bidding for frameworks and projects like the LSC’s. We have ignored this fact while the public spending gravy trains have been running. But when one comes to a crashing halt, the ludicrousness of architects bearing this degree of risk is revealed. They will not, despite Joanna van Heyningen’s hopes elsewhere in this issue, be compensated.

The Labour government has created Kafkaesque bureaucracy under the guise of accountability, and architects have been caught in the middle of it. The LSC is merely the most obvious, and badly timed, example.

kieran.long@emap.com

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