Public sector tender turnover requirements are the real issue, and the institute could learn from the GLA’s framework
How does a small practice get a foot in the public sector door — or any door, for that matter? The stock answer is via the competition system, cue Richard Rogers and the Beaubourg, FOA’s Yokohama Ferry Terminal and other examples where talent and an inspired client allow the almost unheard of to happen.
Of course, there are still competitions, but not many are open. And look at the average shortlist and you’ll see why they’re not the best way to encourage new talent. With a few exceptions, competitions favour those who’ve already won something. They’re also, if completely open, expensive not just for the client but for the architect. But we can no longer afford to pay for six designs when we only need one.
The RIBA believes they encourage innovation. True, but architects can’t justify the time a competition takes if fees are no longer coming in.
But in its long-awaited procurement report the RIBA recommends, among other things, that government should put a third of all public sector work out to either open or invited competition.
This is a noble aim, but it won’t help its members — of whom 85% are locked out of tendering for public sector work because of current turnover require-ments. This really is the problem, and one where the RIBA should have focused more of its energies.
And it should have pushed for frameworks — of the kind just announced by the Greater London Authority. The work on offer is small but the opportunity is great, because other London boroughs will use the same framework.
There will be the usual chorus that the selection process is unfair, but surely it’s preferable a client selects on the basis of the architecture it wants, rather than turnover — which is not one of the GLA’s criteria.
And if the GLA can do it, why can’t councils and other public sector organisations follow?
It’s good to see the RIBA tackling the big issues, but the answer to the procurement problem lies with local government too.
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