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Councils blasted over ‘pay to work’ framework

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Procurement campaigners have criticised two English councils over a controversial new framework which charges suppliers an annual fee of £1,000

Russell Curtis, a director of architect-run procurement service Project Compass, said the East Sussex and Surrey county councils framework could yield an estimated £250,000 from consultants over its lifetime, and warned it could set a ‘dangerous precedent’ for other clients.

The three-year agreement covers a range of projects in East Sussex and Surrey, and will engage up to 40 suppliers of multidisciplinary and other built-environment services.

Individual companies selected for the contract must pay an annual fee of £1,000, while multidisciplinary teams are liable for a £6,000 yearly charge – despite no guarantee that any projects will be awarded through the framework.

Curtis, who is also a director of London practice RCKa, said: ‘The imposition of annual fees with no guarantee of work sets a dangerous precedent. While the councils involved may well anticipate a significant spend across the life of the framework, there is no guarantee of this, and added to the burden of tendering in the first place it will certainly put many smaller consultants off applying.’

He continued: ‘There seems to be an emerging trend amongst public bodies for clawing back administration fees from suppliers, but the imposition of a flat rate charge represents a new low; particularly at a time when architectural fees are already largely inadequate. I would urge practices considering applying for this framework to think long and hard before they do.’

The controversial framework is being tendered by a joint public sector partnership of the two councils known as Orbis. It follows a change in procurement rules allowing public authorities to charge suppliers a fee for maintaining their frameworks and procurement platforms.

An Orbis spokesman said: ‘The income derived from charging annual subscription fees will allow us to ensure we can continue to support local businesses. This will allow us to continue to support the local economy and small and medium sized enterprises.

‘Our view is that taking this approach will lead to an increase in the work opportunities for successful providers and their supply chains, most of which are SMEs. We are anticipating up to £11 million of work each year will be available on the framework.

‘We feel this is a more transparent and open way of operating a fee structure, in contrast to systems often used in which fees are hidden within operating costs. We will only pass on the charge once we have begun to award work through the framework.’

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