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BSF procurement review: RIBA's Smart PFI takes step closer

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Partnerships for Schools (PfS) is to look again at its procurement process in bid to slash timescales and reduce costs across the £45 billion Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme

In a surprise move, PfS’ chief executive Tim Byles has also said the review would consider and build on the RIBA’s proposed Smart PFI model – a model the government had previously discredited and branded ‘illegal’.

Under the RIBA proposals, which were first mooted three years ago, local authorities would start the process by appointing a design team from a pre-selected framework to develop exemplar designs for the sample scheme in their BSF bid process. This would mean less duplication of effort from the rival bidding teams.

Byles said: ‘[We] have established that there is no legal impediment to the final [Smart PFI] proposals produced by the RIBA.

‘There remain a number of issues to resolve in terms of deliverability, for example ensuring continuous improvement; integration; how to test partnership working; and securing genuine risk transfer.

‘While not insignificant, these issues need not be insurmountable, and working with RIBA I look forward to exploring this approach as a live option going forward.’

Byles went on to say that the review would also focus on the growing drive to revamp existing school building stock: ‘We are looking to ensure that revised proposals for procurement for BSF will be useful in reuse of existing buildings that are not currently being used for education as well as refurbishing schools and new build solutions.’

It is the second review of the massive schools procurement process in the last two years. The government claims the first ‘tweak’ has already knocked off up to two months form the original process and reduced costs by £250 million.

Industry comment

Alex Donaldson, Partnerships Director at 3DReid

‘In theory there are a number of benefits that would arise from adoptinga smart PFI approach. Shortening of bid programmes and reducing the numberof “wasted” design solutions would seem highly likely.

‘For bidders the theory is that Smart PFI could become no more than a pricing battle.A “dumbing down” if you like where bidders may become indiscernable from their competitors.Often the attraction for a consortium to bid is the belief that you can win through by having an innovative approachthat you’re competitor does not have.

‘Best practice and innovation are not the sole preserve of the Public sectors Designers and we should becareful that we allow for innovation from the private sector as part of the bidding process.’

Michàl Cohen at Walters and Cohen

‘Any general saving on resources would be very welcome. PfS did conduct a procurement review not long ago and it did save some time at the ITT stage of the bid. But we are still doing as much work in a shorter space of time so it has not saved us anything on resourcing. Even a couple of weeks extra do make a difference in achieving a co-ordinated building. Also, anything that allows a more natural relationship with the end-user is enormously welcome from an architect’s point of view.’
“I don’t know how thebidding consortiums will feel about the smart PFI model. At present they employ the design team and therefore sit between us and the end-user.  I also don’t know how they would feel about the risk of taking on a raft of exemplar designs. These designs might be fine for new buildings but are unlikely to be appropriate for refurbished schemes.’

‘The bidding process is really tough. Very stressful and difficult from an architect’s point of view. I’m not sure we ever look back and think that it is a great piece of work. Outside of the BSF/Academy process we have well -received schools, so we have something to mark it against. I hope that we do not look back in 10 years’ time at what is being built and think why did they do that? Was that the best way?’

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