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OGC pledges new emphasis on design in procurement

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The Office of Government Commerce (OGC) and CABE are demanding a radical overhaul of the way design is treated in the procurement of public buildings.

The publication of Improving Standards of Design in the Procurement of Public Buildings is set to dramatically transform the importance of architects on the much-maligned PFI initiative.

As predicted (AJ 1.8.02), the report attacks architectural standards on the overwhelming majority of government projects, especially private finance schemes, and sets out 11 changes that it claims will achieve major improvements.

However, in a talk to RIBA Council members earlier this month, CABE chief executive Jon Rouse admitted that in spite of its radical recommendations, the 'report does not go as far as we would have liked' due to the intransigence of the Treasury.

The report's most important assessment is of PFI initiatives. On these schemes, problems arise because the 'architect is not contracted to the client', the report admits. The OGC - which sets procurement policy throughout government - pledges all schemes will now be structured so there is 'direct and ongoing dialogue with the design team about service needs'.

Chief secretary to the Treasury Paul Boateng, writing in the foreword, admits to widespread design problems and says government clients often fail to achieve good architecture. 'We have concerns about the capabilities of all levels of government to act as intelligent customers, ' he writes.

The report also demands a commitment that the buildings that fail to reach high design standards will not receive the funding to be built.

Other major changes include the adoption of minimum design standards on all publicly procured schemes. The report's authors also want to ensure that government decision-makers give an 'adequate weighting to the importance of design'.

CABE's head of government relations, Stephen King, also said the report does not go as far as he would have liked. 'But we are an organisation in a hurry and we did not want to wait around, ' he said.

However, King expects the report to prove significant. 'It is the first time the Treasury has come out in favour of good design. It gives the departments permission to spend extra money on a good design. It is a major push in favour of best value over the cheapest project, ' King said.

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