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Treasury opts for prime contracting

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Prime contracting, design and build and the private finance initiative will form the backbone of new policy on the architecture of government buildings, it emerged this week.

But the stress on these procurement models has raised fears among architects that their role in government building projects will be diminished and not improved - as was hoped when Tony Blair ordered ministers to study the issue (aj 28.10.99). Annual government expenditure on buildings last year was £23 billion, 40 per cent of the uk's construction spending.

The models will form the main planks of a Treasury report due to be presented to the prime minister later this month. 'Our discussion on procurement policy has centred on an integrated supply chain in a single team. Buildings procured on a non-integrated basis will be rare and will have to be justified,' a senior Treasury official said. 'We feel the problems in construction are based on a lack of proper dialogue. This is very much in the Treasury report.'

But architects cast doubt on the value of this proposed method. 'It's not the procurement but the design aspiration for government working environments which is important. We need a change in the culture of people who are commissioning. There are people in government who are just proud to be philistine,' said partner at czwg, Piers Gough. Allan Murray, of Allan Murray Architects said: 'This [prime contracting] is not in the interest of creating better architecture. It is really aimed at making it easier for officials to understand the finance rather than design aspects of a new building.'

The Treasury will also call for affordability, environmental impact and functionality to be given equal weighting in procurement. But it denied that it will have power to directly influence the day-to-day use of funds by other government departments in architectural procurement.

Chris Smith's Department of Culture Media and Sport is also set to publish a simultaneous report, with the input of the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment, on ways the government can improve its use of architects. cabe's submission is likely to be presented as an annex to the main report in which it calls for an individual design 'champion' for each project. 'The danger is if the architect is not made a lead player in prime contracting and pfi,' a cabe spokesman said.

cabe will also call for design work to be adequately scheduled into Government projects to avoid poor results on projects such as hospitals where there is often a great deal of political pressure for rapid building.

The reports were due to be published by Christmas but the Treasury attributed the delay to attempts to co-ordinate the two departments' messages on architecture.

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