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Small practices warned over financial perils of PFI deals

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Leading Scottish architect Richard Murphy has warned small and medium-sized firms to steer clear of PFI projects despite his practice winning awards for buildings including schools and health centres.

Murphy said 40 per cent of construction was commissioned through PFI, and medium-sized as well as small firms could become mired in red tape.

He urged: 'Do not apply for any schools or health buildings. They are chosen by the builders and then the architect's bank managers become involved because getting to the preferred-bidder stage is a colossal risk.' His firm had 'had a brush' with PFI, but the selection committee consisted of no one with architectural qualifications. 'This is deeply depressing, ' he told last week's council meeting. 'PFI problems must be top of the RIBA agenda.'

Elspeth Clements, due to stand down shortly as vice-president of small practice, said framework agreements and 'bundling' several projects into one contract were the bête noire of small practices.

PFI could kill off vast sectors of business, and many sub-contractors could go to the wall, she said.

Her committee, with Reading University, is to carry out research into best practice in procurement with an award of £66,000 from the DTI, she added.

Meanwhile, the National Federation of Builders has won £200,000 of DTI funds to look at the impact of the Egan report, 'Rethinking Construction', and best value. 'As a result of framework agreements, government policy is pushing everything into the hands of the big boys, ' said Clements.

Rod Hackney said of PFI: 'There is no way of stopping this or any other government. They are advised by banks, and architects are thinkers who relate to clients. We must make it clear we are against mass production of thought and product.'

However, president Paul Hyett said many contractors in PFI paid their architects handsomely.

Relationship-building was important but in the product-versus-process debate, the latter was often 'dumbed down'.

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