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Shock at tender process for museum project run by one of the bidders

WW2 recording studio in Milton Bryan, Bedfordshire
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Architects have withdrawn from bidding for a museum project after it emerged that the procurement process is being run by one of the teams bidding for the contract

The Museum of Military Intelligence has insisted its tendering process for the new £4.7 million base is ‘not unfair’ after it emerged the team behind the feasibility study was also administering the tender and bidding for the next phase.

Procurement experts have criticised the museum for allowing project manager Cragg Management Services (CMS) to draft the invitation to tender – including questions and evaluation criteria – and act as the sole point of contact for bidders interested in advancing the museum’s new headquarters in Milton Bryan, Bedfordshire.

While the museum said that the evaluation of bids would be done objectively by it alone and not by CMS, Kay Hughes of competitions consultancy Khaa said in her view the procurement process lacked impartiality, carried ‘lots of risks’ and should be investigated by the Heritage Lottery Fund, which is being asked to fund the project.

She said: ‘There needs to be a level of impartiality that is clearly not demonstrated in this route. Irrespective of the process, they have a relationship with the client, which would have already given them some advantage.’

Walter Menteth, of procurement reform pressure group Project Compass, criticised the museum for failing to ‘ring-fence any potential for conflict of interest’.

He asked: ‘How is it possible for bidders to have full confidence that they are bidding on a level playing field when the supplier of the information for this procurement is another bidder?’

Several architecture practices have now ruled out bidding after discovering the scope of CMS’s involvement in the project’s early stages and tendering process.

Chris Boyce, director and founder of Assorted Skills + Talents, said: ‘Procurement is a minefield for all those involved; for the client to use the same project manager to administer a bid who has led a project from the start and will bid and win the next stage for sure, is perhaps helpful. At least we all know not to bother.’

CMS, which is leading a team featuring Simpson & Brown Architects of Edinburgh, completed the Round 1 Heritage Lottery Fund application for the scheme which will be considered for approval in December. Both this and the fact that it is itself bidding for the next phase were omitted from the invitation to tender and only emerged following an avalanche of questions from potential applicants.

Crucial information from the Round 1 lottery funding bid was also absent from the original tender documents published almost one month ago, despite an understanding that such papers were required under the scoring mechanism.

The missing documents have now been made available to bidders and the applications deadline extended by nearly a month in an effort to compensate potential bidders.

Project compass director Russell Curtis said: ‘It’s a pretty fundamental principle of public endeavours that even the perception of a conflict is enough to warrant concern, so it’s difficult to see how the Museum of Military Intelligence can justify allowing an organisation that is involved – even peripherally – in the tender process to also bid for that project.

‘A consultant’s appointment for an earlier stage is one thing – and quite a common occurrence if the preparation of a feasibility study was required to inform the procurement brief. But for that organisation to also be involved in the administration of the tender would seem to be far from acceptable, even if not legally deficient. They really should recuse themselves from the bidding process.’

But Museum of Military Intelligence trustee René Dee defended the procurement process. ‘All CMS is doing is acting as a secretariat on our behalf to field the queries and log them,’ he said. ‘The actual tendering processes to evaluate bids will be done by us. There isn’t anything unfair about this at all.

‘We are carrying out this procurement process with total openness and transparency, with no bias or advantage being given by us to CMS.’

In a statement, CMS said: ‘The Museum of Military Intelligence tender process is merely using CMS to act as the point of contact for bidders to obtain technical information. CMS is only administering the tender in that it is distributing the tender pack and answers to queries. The museum alone is evaluating the tender returns, which are to be sent directly to the Museum of Military Intelligence, not CMS. There is no weighting in the evaluation in favour of the incumbent.

‘CMS is not involved in the tender evaluation and selection in any capacity and would have to submit a tender response the same as every other tenderer.’

So far 97 companies have expressed interest in the project. Dee said he was confident at least three would submit compliant tenders, thus satisfying the Heritage Lottery Fund’s requirements for a minimum of three bids.

A spokesperson for the Heritage Lottery Fund said: ‘A first round application has been submitted by the Museum of Military Intelligence and is currently under assessment. A decision is expected at our December Board meeting.’

The winning project manager-led team will create a new venue for the museum, which exhibits artefacts, documents and other material relating to UK military intelligence activity. The museum is currently based at the former RAF Chicksands and is only open by appointment.

The project, planned to complete in 2026, will transform a 2ha plot within the village of Milton Bryan, which contains several disused structures along with a derelict Grade II-listed recording studio (pictured) used to record propaganda for broadcast behind enemy lines during the Second World War.

The museum documents the history of British military intelligence from the Crimea War to the modern age.

The project will restore the recording studio to create a new ‘sustainable and accessible’ space featuring a temporary exhibition space, educational facilities and a café. 

Bids will be evaluated 65 per cent on quality and 35 per cent on cost, and the chosen team will develop the project from RIBA stage 2 through to completion. The deadline for applications has been extended from 29 November to 20 December.

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