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MPs champion design quality in damning procurement report

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A parliamentary committee has called on the government to protect design quality as it seeks to save 20 per cent on construction costs

The All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Excellence in the Built Environment has published a 13-point action plan to influence government policy on public building procurement.

Government construction czar Paul Morrell and former RIBA president Jack Pringle were both members of the report’s commission.

Titled A better deal for public building, the report supported government plans to shave 20 per cent off public buildings’ construction cost but warned ‘it is essential that this is not achieved at the expense of quality and good design.’

It claimed a ‘cultural shift’ was needed by public sector clients and called on the government to commit ‘support and resources’ to achieve a ‘lasting and sustainable behavioural improvement’ concerning procurement.

Other recommendations included allowing more time to develop project briefs and mandatory post occupation evaluations for all projects worth more than £5 million.

In a foreword to the report, the commission’s chair, Conservative MP for Banbury Tony Baldry, said: ‘The ingredients of good procurement are largely known, but previous attempts to roll them out in the public sector have had limited success. We need to build on tried and tested processes to deliver successful outcomes on a consistent basis.’

He added: ‘The uptake of various studies and recommendations over the years has been limited and we’re yet to consistently deliver outstanding projects that fulfil their purpose, at the right price.

‘As the squeeze has tightened on public spending, it is more imperative than ever that public sector clients and their suppliers work together to lower the cost of building procurement to the public purse. Lest it be overlooked, the Government is still the construction industry’s largest single client spending £46bn a year.’

The report fails to address fully the problems faced by many small firms

Welcoming the report, RIBA president Angela Brady said: ‘The APPG’s report is a very welcome contribution to the on-going debate on public procurement. For too long, the culture of public procurement has been to prioritise short-term costs ahead of the long-term social, economic and environmental value that results from high quality, intelligently designed public buildings. We are pleased therefore, at the emphasis placed in the Group’s report on a “balanced scorecard”, ensuring that the design quality of buildings is a key consideration from the outset of a project. 

‘The Group rightly highlights the enormous success of the procurement on the Olympic Park. The Olympics were proof of what can be achieved when clients have a clear vision andprioritisegood design. It also underlines how a competitive tender process, driven through design competitions, can often encourage innovation and sustainable design solutions, whilst also encouraging access for smaller firms.

‘However, the report fails to address fully, the problems faced by many small firms in accessing public procurement contracts. The RIBA’s recent report ‘Building Ladders of Opportunity’ exposed the enormous burden placed on SMEs by an overly-bureaucratic, process-driven procurement rules and the difficulty that many firms have in even bidding for public work. The RIBA will be continuing to push for reform at both the EU and UK level of the procurement process, to ensure that some of these barriers are removed.’


The committee’s thirteen-point action plan

Read the full report


More time and resource must be given to the development of a project brief (with clients asking themselves, why do we need this building or infrastructure, what do we need and what is the best way of ensuring we get what we need). Clients must also ensure they allocate sufficient resource to the overall project management by themselves or a management partner, to reduce risk and create a successful outcome.

BSI has introduced a new British Standard BS 8534 - Construction Procurement Policies, Strategies and Procedures, which provides excellent guidance which public bodies would do well to follow.

The Government, through the Chief Construction Adviser, should set up a Best Practice Procurement Advisory Group to assist inexperienced public sector clients (including government departments, agencies, non-departmental public bodies and local government) to define their objectives clearly and adopt appropriate procurement arrangements for the size and type of project. Infrequent clients would also benefit from appointing a professional adviser to develop the brief as we move to outcome based specification.

Projects must be procured on the basis of integrated teams (designers, contractors and, if appropriate, asset managers) with the ability of teams to work together as one of the selection criteria within a balanced scorecard.

At the same time, a dialogue between clients and the design team in contractor-led procurement is to be encouraged while designs are being developed. Clients must also ensure that they and their project management team (if they have one) meet the nominated individuals of their lead consultants and contractors and have the ability to accept/reject on the basis of culture/fit.

Selection of an integrated team must not be made on the basis of lowest price but, like the construction of the venues for London 2012, on the basis of a balanced scorecard; that is, marking the bid against specified criteria, of which sustainability should be one.

Large-scale public projects (e.g. more than £100m in value) should have mandatory construction commitments, based on the 2012 Construction Commitments, on which they would be required to report over the duration of the project. At the same time, Government should encourage voluntary adoption of such construction commitments across a wide range of public and private sector projects with a programme of promotional activity, including awards, to highlight and celebrate success. Key indicators could include: client leadership, sustainability, team integration, design quality, health and safety, and commitment to people, which includes a commitment to employing local people and excellent facilities.

Buildings and infrastructure should be procured on the basis of both capital and operating costs.

Public sector clients need better guidance to help prevent them from over-interpreting EU procurement rules, which can create barriers to entry and create a tick-box mentality. Clients should also drive out waste in the pre-qualification stage by avoiding disproportionate demands on the bidders. For example, unlimited liability clauses should be expunged.

Prequalification questionnaires should be sensible in their scope and not exclude small and medium-sized enterprises from appropriate work.

We wholly endorse that the use of Building Information Modelling should be regarded as best practice and mandatory from 2016 across all public projects, and would urge the Government and private sector to put the necessary resources into enabling this capability to be achieved.

Post occupancy evaluation should be mandatory on all public sector projects above a minimum value threshold (e.g. £5m), with a focus on assessing performance against design expectations. This will help determine good and bad design practice and help inform design decisions going forward. Poor commissioning often leads to performance issues and one way of improving this is to have a phased handover of the building, using a protocol called Soft Landings.

The Government’s Chief Construction Adviser should be required to prepare an annual report on the performance of public sector clients (including Government departments, agencies, non-departmental public body and local authorities) in construction procurement. This should highlight positive achievements in successful projects, as well as failure to deliver value. The report should be a public document, and should provide the basis for follow-up examinations of public sector clients, which have consistently failed to deliver value for money or failed to improve their performance when benchmarked against other comparable organisations.


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