OJEU procurement is a nerdy subject for a leader, but a meeting I had this week with a London borough planning office has left me needing to get something off my chest about the most-avoided piece of European legislation since metric weights and measures.
Everyone agrees that, broadly speaking, framework agreements lead to a certain conservatism when it comes to the selection of architects, and militate against giving opportunities to smaller practices, even for jobs that they are perfectly capable of taking on. (See Agenda in AJ 31.01.08).
Framework agreements are designed to avoid the need to advertise in the Official Journal of the European Union, because that is a time-consuming process. But until this week, I never realised just how timeconsuming. The borough planner I was speaking to told me it could take up to a year to complete the procurement of an urban designer through OJEU, because of the council’s procurement policy.
How can this be right? I have heard of OJEUs taking less than three months, which seems like an OK amount of time. But something within borough councils is stringing this process out to a mind-numbing and utterly impossible timescale. The result is that they go to the safe pairs of hands the council always uses for jobs with a contract value as small as £1-2 million, when the local authority could be getting the intensive and committed engagement of a smaller office, probably for smaller fees.
The OJEU process is fairer and promotes competition – that’s why it exists. But it does not need to be as project-killingly slow as some clients make it. Architects should be agitating for the reform of local authority procurement practices, and perhaps OJEUs can be resurrected as a tool that promotes fair competition. Or else we will have continue to tolerate anti-competitive framework agreements.