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Row erupts over ‘cost-driven’ public procurement

April 2 2014

Row erupts over ‘cost-driven’ public procurement
Richard Murphy has triggered a broader debate on the state of public procurement in Scotland after breaking cover to attack the  Scottish Government for sacrificing design in favour of ‘cost-driven competitions’.

In an opinion piece for The Scotsman Murphy claimed the profession was being strangled by a combination of planners averse to modern architecture and a focus on economy above all else when procuring major public works. Murphy wrote: “… the system for public buildings means contractors compete for projects, choose the architects, and fees are rock-bottom. Design is the last thing they think about.”

This concern is one that has found echo in much of the architectural community with Ian Springford telling Urban Realm: “... public bodies are genuinely terrified of selecting anyone other than the lowest fee bid in case the press or public attack them for ‘wasting public money’.

Springford added: “We often find public tenders are managed by someone with little or no construction or architectural background. It is often a ‘procurement manager’ that can be purchasing cleaning services one day and then asked to procure a design team the next. They don’t know what the critical issues are or questions that should be asked of a potential bidder. Consequently, we find these PQQ’s ask assess meaningless procedural information (eg equal opportunity policy) above project specific issues.

“Standard practice is to ask for examples of near identical completed projects but no assessment whether they are actually any good! This results in the same practices producing the same buildings, making the same mistakes.”

Defending government policy Heather Chapple, design adviser at Architecture + Design Scotland, pointed to the Crawford Review of Construction Procurement, which recommended a system of Design Led Procurement, as a means of squaring the circle by better utilising existing government advice and frameworks without necessitating a change in the law.

Outlining how this recommendation will take effect Chapple told Urban Realm that authorities must: “Define strategic design objectives for the project at the outset and make them an intrinsic part of the means for measuring the success of the project.”

Urban Realm will be delving deeper into the issue of procurement in our next edition, to contribute (on or off the record) please contact John Glenday at or 0141 559 6087.


#1 Posted by Stephen on 2 Apr 2014 at 22:41 PM
Is there anyone out there that doesn't agree with Richard Murphy - at least anyone within the architecture profession?
We've given up on most PQQs (and most competitions as it happens - despite winning a good few). They're a complete liberty, requiring far too much free input, and if you're lucky enough to get through, some hopeless practice (and they're depressing in number) goes and buys the job anyway.
Architecture is broken.
(Anyone tried working for Hub by the way? Try making that pay!)
#2 Posted by hingwy on 3 Apr 2014 at 10:14 AM
Regarding the proliferation of these contractor-led 'Hubs' that a large number of public work is being procured through, the fees are completely abysmal for these. The contractors are incredibly brutal in driving down the fees of design consultants, post award, although I'm sure their own fees are the last to get cut.
#3 Posted by Doug on 3 Apr 2014 at 10:26 AM
Richard’s outrage expresses what almost every architect in Scotland believes. The RIAS published a report into Public Procurement back in 2011 “Building a Better Future?” In this it found “low fee bids are still given too much favourable weighting in scoring and selection systems. There is a clear need to review the weight given respectively to quality and price in favour of the former, as this should significantly reduce the ultimate whole life cost and enhance the sustainability of many projects.”
At the RIAS symposium to discuss this report John Cole (Chief Executive NI Health Estates) pointed out that in terms of whole life cost design is 0.1%, construction is 1%, maintenance is 5% and cost in use is the rest.
Cutting the cost in use is where worthwhile savings can be made, everything else – and particularly construction professionals’ fees – is chickenfeed. The client bodies do not invest adequately in design and architects are all too ready to bid unsustainable fee levels. This is on the back of the cost of actually making a bid. Just to put together the required documentation can run up a cost for a practice of over £1500 very easily. It can then cost the public purse £37,500 to assess what can be 50 or more bids –so we have a cost to get the starting blocks of £112,500 while the project itself may be little more than that! And then there may be a legal challenge to the whole process.
The present system is not good for Architecture, not good for the public purse and not good for architects.
shiny beast
#4 Posted by shiny beast on 3 Apr 2014 at 11:53 AM
We were taught at architecture school that 'good' architecture costs no more than 'bad'................but then 'you get what you pay for'..........
Kevin MacLennan
#5 Posted by Kevin MacLennan on 3 Apr 2014 at 13:32 PM
Big Lottery funded projects are affected by this as well. We've lost more than one fee bid for such projects simply because the requirement is for the lowest tender to be accepted. 'Lowest tender', note, not 'Best value'. Couple this with the unfortunate tendency for some firms to bid low just to win a contract, and you are left with a Big Lottery project being designed by people whose profit margin does not allow any reasonable time spent on actual design.
#6 Posted by Gringo on 3 Apr 2014 at 15:49 PM
The image to the article looks like a good scheme to me
#7 Posted by Cadmonkey on 3 Apr 2014 at 20:17 PM
If you want cadmonkeys you pay them peanuts.

Although I do not agree that simply paying more for design always means better quality design.
#8 Posted by Robert on 3 Apr 2014 at 22:42 PM
Couldn't agree more with Richard and Ian. It is a dismal state of affairs.

Like it or not, a legacy is being created that will speak for itself.
fee cap
#9 Posted by fee cap on 3 Apr 2014 at 23:24 PM
Whilst the fee caps in hub projects are not ideal, could we all agree to not discount fees and force consultant selection on something other than cost!
David Wilson
#10 Posted by David Wilson on 4 Apr 2014 at 01:41 AM
I'm staggered that no-one here has mentioned the disastrous policy of PFI under the previous government which has effectively bankrupted public building in Scotland.

We are paying billions to private funders on interest rates that even Wonga would be ashamed to charge.

When construction of a new jail costs £80m yet the total repayment by the tax payer over the lifetime of the project is close to £1bn it's no wonder that the public building sector now accepts the cheapest quotes it can get.

The problem is that we can't afford the architecture because we're too busy paying off the horrendous repayments.
#11 Posted by John on 4 Apr 2014 at 10:36 AM
The new standardised PQQ produced under the Scottish Govt's procurement review has about 110 questions of which 3 relate to technical proficiency & experience. Of those 3, 2 are asking for examples. The other 107 questions relate to business probity, anti-corruption and health & safety.
#12 Posted by Doug on 9 Apr 2014 at 16:37 PM
David - I doubt anyone will disagree with you.
John - you have hit the nail on the head, all architects have to abide by the ARB code of conduct and that alone should answer almost all of those 107 questions.

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