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Willie Miller's Blog

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Some final words on procurement

June 14th, 2010

My last entry on this blog was on 31 October 2009 - not a great record but I've made my apologies to Urban Realm and will try to do better.  I don't want to be known as that guy that goes on about procurement but I thought I would bring the subject to a close with a couple of tales then move on to other subjects.

The notice above was recently issued to practices who had expressed an interest in North Ayrshire Council's Town Centre Research study.  There are some obvious points to draw from this and many questions to ask.  Clearly the lack of work in this sector has focused the attention of an enormous number of firms on this potential but modest job although it is hard to understand what sort of 'unprecendented' number actually applied for it.  This information is not being made available meantime.  North Ayrshire Council obviously couldn't cope with the rush of interest so they abandoned their anticipated process and randomly selected applicants, evaluated their suitablility and invited five to proceed to the next stage.  In other words, this is closer to lottery territory than procurement - or is it?. Isn't this similar to inviting a list of five firms to tender then selecting the most suitable tenderer?  And isn't that the way things used to happen with many local authority contracts?  The difference is that the Council embarked on an apparently 'fair' and 'transparent', 'best value' approach to procuring the job but gave up on it halfway through.

I know a lot of people who read this have spent much of their time trying to change the way that the public sector acquires external skills and advice.  The subject was raised at a cross party group meeting at the Scottish Parliament in May so there is a sense that the process needs to change.  Of course the current procurement situation suits some companies as it focuses attention on their massive turnover rather than on their meagre skillsets or their ability to undercut the fee budget by 50% because to them it is just a bit of cashflow.  It cuts out the small fry who might just produce something worthwhile and keeps local council box-tickers in work.

But it is at its most damaging when it separates clients from practices and prevents the growth of constructive relationships around change in architecture and urbanism.  Many people in Councils realise the damage this causes and go to great lengths to avoid having to go down a procurement route - well good for them.  Quite unlike the misguided English authority who recently advertised a tender where one of the requirements was a turnover of £1m purely in urban design work for the past three years. Now I wonder which firms will be able to satisfy that condition?

Anyway I will move on to other subjects now but thoroughly recommend that you read 'A short post about risk' by Charles Holland of FAT Architects. Try googling 'fantastic journal' - I'm apparently not allowed to make links from here to other blogs.

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