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Fraser fears new public procurement strategy is “a disaster”

December 3 2010

 Fraser fears new public procurement strategy is “a disaster”
In a full page article for The Times today a wintry looking Malcolm Fraser has spoken out on the thorny topic of construction procurement.

In the architect’s sights is “The Hub”, a new method of procurement devised by the Scottish Futures Trust which sets out to cluster the commissioning of public sector contracts.

Fraser rails against the scheme as a “disaster” however, fearing that it will cut out local construction firms in favour of large multinationals.

The full commentary proceeds below:
“Construction Procurement” sounds like the driest, most specialist, horlicks-of-a-subject.  It comes alive when it goes wrong: fills newspapers and courtrooms, damages jobs and local economies and haemorrhages public money. Scotland is world-class at getting it wrong, with the humiliation of the Parliament’s procurement in danger of being surpassed by that of the Edinburgh Tram.

High profile failures give people the impression that construction is, inevitably, a financial and procedural disaster.  But freed from government dogma and European legislation the private sector often does it well.  Just compare private schools like St Aloysius, St Georges and Fettes, with their beautiful, cost-effective new buildings, to the expensive Government PFI and PPP schools that will have us in hock to big corporations for generations.    
The success of any project is based on the care taken to understand its purpose, design and detail it well and properly manage its risks.  The best procurement is individually-tailored, adaptable and flexible.  Yet successive British governments have bundled the procurement of public buildings away from such responsible measures and into the hands of mega-corporations.
In Scotland we had the chance to do things better, and the incoming SNP administration criticised such huge and wasteful public-private initiatives.  The Scottish construction industry is, therefore, looking askance at the Government’s plans for the unfolding “Hub” initiative, which will establish five huge corporates, each with 10 or 20 year monopolies over public building.
The Scottish Futures Trust (SFT), which runs The Hub, divided the country into five super-regions.  Ours is a wee country, and our builders struggle to compete at such a scale.  Of the two contracts awarded so far one has gone to the Miller Group.  But the south-east super-region contract – for Edinburgh, Lothians, Fife and Borders – has gone to a consortium all headquartered in England.  The SFT emphasises that there will be work further down the “supply-chain” for local builders, architects and engineers.  But does this still not represent a primary loss of leadership, and money, down south?  
My second concern is the relegation of the architecture of a building to an item in a contractor’s supply-chain.  It seems to me, when I look at the quality of most of today’s architecture, that it suffers from a lack of care and attention.  Do we really want to drive down costs here, even further?

My final issues are with the very concept of a monopoly.  It’s not currently possible to establish the lower limit for the Hub’s projects – £750,000 has been mentioned, as has £5 million (an extraordinary uncertainty, given two contracts are let).  But the skills needed to deliver a new-build city hospital are very different from those to convert an old building in a rural town, to co-locate local services.  Huge contractors are simply not cost-effective for diverse small work.

And where did we get the idea that 10 and 20 year monopolies were cost-effective, or could deliver consistent quality?  The Hub’s quality-check processes are no match for good old fashioned carrot-and-stick:  that we have to deliver, today, in order to have more work tomorrow.


Bottom Feeders
#1 Posted by Bottom Feeders on 3 Dec 2010 at 14:35 PM
Good article by Malcolm. The whole procurement system is a shambles, not just SFT. Working now on a PQQ which has taken ten days so far, one of many others, for a small "sustainable" housing project in the far north of Scotland just to get onto a shortlist for a competition. I wonder what other profession gives away their intellectual property and talent so freely and for so little return. To make matters worse, this PQQ submission and the follow up competition is managed by the RIAS, as we all know, has little chance of happening.
Not the Murdark Press
#2 Posted by Not the Murdark Press on 3 Dec 2010 at 15:05 PM
"But Baxter’s sharpest objections are reserved for a bloated and excessively bureaucratic “procurement industry”, as exemplified, in his view, by the Scottish Futures Trust. He claims that its “big bag” approach of lumping projects together for ease of processing skews the process in favour of larger, often non-Scottish firms. These are adept at “tick-boxing” the criteria in terms of risk and previous experience but have little interest in architectural innovation or creativity."

Ah, those competitions.

"So, if you’re thinking of entering a competition, don’t! Take your office down the pub instead. It will be more fun and cost a lot less. You might even meet someone down there who wants to give you a job. Remember: if you stop, I can too."

No Paywall.
Bottom Feeders
#3 Posted by Bottom Feeders on 4 Dec 2010 at 08:32 AM
FAT on Hastings Pier competition shortlist. Interesting Blog and I'd agree, trouble is what people say should be done and what they do themselves does not always match.
Ghost of Louis Kahn
#4 Posted by Ghost of Louis Kahn on 4 Dec 2010 at 10:04 AM
No, Bottom Feeder real trouble is few public clients and no commerial clients have any interest in what Malcolm Fraser is talking about: Architecture. They want a trouble free project, without having to think too hard and one that will come in on budget. PQQ's are an example of how stupid architects are, this one reinforced by our chartered representatives. A Pre Qualification get onto a shortlist for a COMPETITION project for six houses on the Shetland Islands. You are mad to do it for there will be lots of returns. Winner gets to build it having submitted the competition entry which includes a fee bid. Other 3 shortlisted losers get £1,200, which will just about cover printing costs.

No other other profession would do it, giving your experience and talent away for nothing. Got to make up some stuff too about "sustainability" that question has a high tick box rating.

Not the Murdark Press
#5 Posted by Not the Murdark Press on 6 Dec 2010 at 11:40 AM
"If Riba wants to do something useful it should campaign to end the PQQ (pre-qualification questionnaire) system by which many of its members have been obliged to seek work. As Charles Holland pointed out in a blog PQQs are a fruitless and pointless exercise only there to minimise risk, and made it impossible for small practices like his to get work"

"The winner is to be chosen by the London borough of Tower Hamlets next month, but it won't make much difference who wins. Both schemes are generic developers' fare, with homes heaped into blocks and towers to make enough money to pay for the demolition of the old buildings, with a notional bit of landscaping supplied as a palliative. There is no sense of place, no distinctiveness. The gridded elevations are not more charming than the Smithsons', and all trace of dignity or grandeur will be gone. The streets in the air, which for all their faults allow some kind of neighbourliness, will be replaced by lift lobbies.
Particularly startling is a cluster of towers in the scheme proposed by Swan Housing and Countryside Properties. This is pure Hong Kong, minus the vibrant street life or dramatic topography. They show no interest in architectural quality, or in the making of home or community. They are just units, stacked. They also look like the much-reviled tower blocks of the 1960s, except that the latter had more generous landscaping, and larger rooms than are likely in the new ones. It seems that many flats will be north-facing only, or will have views only on to the Blackwall tunnel approach, something the Smithsons strove to avoid. The other bid, by London and Quadrant and Telford Homes, is only slightly less crude.

The site's biggest problem, that it is cut off by roads from its surroundings, is not addressed. It will be a disconnected island. This is because the question of modifying these roads was left out of the brief given to developers and the architects. One respected practice withdrew from the project as a result."
Mr Blue
#6 Posted by Mr Blue on 6 Dec 2010 at 12:00 PM
Not sure what the answer is to the public procurement problem. MF has perhaps hit the nail on the head when he infers European legislation and the resultant government dogma.
Anti-Mafia measures introduced by our Euro partners has perhaps curtailed Lombardian money laundering, or corrupt Campanian construction. Its knock-on effect towards a pre-qualifying 'competition' to build half a dozen houses on the shores of the Shetland Isles is, I fear, a step too far. Perhaps it's time for that government dogma to be loosened in favour of a more pragmatic approach to public procurement. It would go some way to assisting our ailing construction industries in these recessionary times.
Not the Murdark Press
#7 Posted by Not the Murdark Press on 7 Dec 2010 at 14:07 PM
"And the ‘model’ on which architectural production is based is deeply flawed.
Specifically, he feels the ‘starchitect’ system is detrimental to the profession as a whole: the superstar status of a minority coming at the price of the majority. Most architects work long hours for low (or, indeed, no) fees to pursue the dream of joining this elite. In the process they massively devalue their professional skills. No other profession gives away so much of its time for free, or spends so many resources trying to convince others to employ them. With some bracingly simple diagrams Cesal proves that, for the profession as a whole, design competitions are commercial suicide."
#8 Posted by bonvivant on 8 Dec 2010 at 18:18 PM
At the risk of sounding party political (heaven forfend), given that the SNP administration tends not only to not do what they promise, but in fact to do something approaching the opposite, why does this latest volte face come as any surprise. It merely goes to show (to paraphrase from 'The Leopard') that everything must change for everything to stay the same. The need for everything to appear to change yet stay the same is an imperative for the governing class, and even more so, their administrators.
Need a job in March
#9 Posted by Need a job in March on 11 Dec 2010 at 00:34 AM
My employment contract (Architect) is to end in March beacuse SFT is coming to town. My performance has been cited as positive and even won my organisation awards.
Local procuremant and supply chains will suffer under this government boffin. We are achieving very competive traditional tender returns in the current climate. This is just going to hurt locals job in the regions. The incrediably slow set of this initiative is delaying real work that could be happening now- saving more jobs. RIAS needs to do more. Mr Grice should come and meet my family and the other who will invariably be displaced by a poorly thought out programme.
Iain Cameron
#10 Posted by Iain Cameron on 14 Dec 2010 at 21:12 PM
Malcolm, the voice of common sense. I only wish there were more prepared to voice the opinion of so many within the Profession. I found myself unemployed last week for the first time since leaving art school in 1988. I have watched the decline of the Profession over the years. Project Managers taking over the role of Lead Consultant, D&B Contracts where architects find themselves novated to the Contractor. OJEU tenders where we are required to carry out design work to Stage D all free of charge in competition with other shortlisted teams and no garauntee of work. And now the HUB! Public sector is inefficient. Just take a look at the Planning and Building Control system. These Departments should be privatised. Architects are in danger of losing their rightful position as the Lead Consultant. Frankly it is a bloody shambles and it all started with Thatcher's ideologies. Anyway, rant over and good to read your article.

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