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Government urges architects to blow whistle over procurement abuse

The government has created a ‘mystery shopper’ hotline where architects can anonymously report bad practice in the procurement process

Open to all procurement complaints, the mystery shopper service has been set up to investigate complaints by all suppliers about public sector procurement and influence policy reform.

It is understood complaints registered with the hotline have already resulted in procurement processes being stopped and restarted.

In an exclusive interview with the AJ today, government construction procurement guru Philip Heenan said the tip off service was ‘open to everyone’, adding: ‘Mystery shopper gets calls from across the industry. Cases have already come from architects’.

Heenan – head of construction policy and standards at the Cabinet Office Efficiency and Reform Group – spoke this morning (4 July) with colleague Pippa Bass – Cabinet Office deputy director of procurement capability and process improvement – at the AJ100 breakfast club.

The event took place at Claridge’s Hotel in London during the same week the government published an update on its programme to slash 15 to 20 per cent from contract costs over the next three years by rationalising procurement.

Heenan acknowledged concern that the UK’s interpretation of EU procurement law was too literal, adding: ‘It’s clear there needs to be a more equitable position and better understanding of what is in the market.’

Public procurement processes are costing UK architectural practices £40 million a year, according to a recent survey by the RIBA. The success rate for architects bidding for OJEU jobs is meanwhile 15 per cent.

Heenan said the government’s ‘long term game plan’ in its negotiations with the European Commission over procurement law reform was a ‘strong drive for simplification’.

We’ve got to get better at engaging everyone in the supply chain

‘The coalition recognise the need to have a long hard discussion with the EU commission to improve the entire structure,’ he said.

Heenan went on to emphasise the need for ‘early dialogue’ between architects and clients to ‘make sure you get the right team in place’.

Urging clients to speak with all potential suppliers needed for a project and ‘not just main contractors’ before launching formal procurement processes, he said: ‘We have got to get better at engaging everyone in the supply chain. Having that early dialogue than can influence what is going to proceed.’

He added: ‘If a client is appointing an architect, clients will be thinking about what approach of architecture will influence their project and they would want to have a dialogue without going out in an uninformed way. It needs more intelligent thought early on to make sure you get the right team in place.’

Senior representatives from the UK’s largest architectural companies – including HOK, Stanton Williams, BDP and Foster + Partners – attended the briefing on procurement reform progress and took part in an exclusive question and answer session.

The event was sponsored BST Global, Bespoke, Hewlett Packard, Miele and Staron and Radianz by Samsung.

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