Procurement report proposes ways to end discrimination against small practices
Design competitions should be used for nearly a third of all public sector construction contracts so smaller firms have a chance of winning them.
The proposal is one of several suggested by the RIBA in Building Ladders of Opportunity, its long-awaited report on reforming public sector procurement. In an accompanying survey, architects have complained that the UK’s procedures are expensive, time-consuming and wasteful.
RIBA president Angela Brady said: “Our current public procurement system has not been working for some time. The process is both frustrating and wasteful for those bidding or unable to gain access to contracts.”
Small practices said private clients were more prepared to take a chance on them than their public sector counterparts, which price them out of bidding by setting minimum turnover levels.
“There are many examples of commercial developers working with small practices and having confidence in them,” said Alun Jones from Dow Jones Architects. “In the public sector, it’s an exercise in middle managers providing an audit trail to accountability should something go wrong.”
According to the RIBA’s procurement survey of 362 practices published with the report, architects spent £40 million preparing Ojeu bids last year, equivalent to 29% of Ojeu-related turnover.
Design competitions would offer the public sector better value for money and improved design quality, according to the institute, which said 57% of projects built after RIBA competitions have gone on to win awards.
But it has also called for procedures to be reformed to make them cheaper and more accessible to a wider range of bidders.
“It’s just paranoia; they don’t want any trouble coming back at them,” said Studio Octopi director Chris Romer-Lee. “As soon as we see a PQQ, our heads drop. The requirements are so beyond our reach.”
Walter Menteth, chair of the RIBA procurement reform group, said the changes would allow “public clients to take full advantage of the UK’s pool of design
talent, and engender a more competitive market for design”.
The RIBA criticised “overly restrictive previous experience requirements” which it said are frequently used as a “blunt tool to thin down bid numbers”. Procurement reforms should ensure bidding criteria are proportionate to contracts, it said.
The construction industry has an annual turnover of more than £100 billion, with around 40% of this being spent by the public sector.
According to RIBA president Angela Brady, a host of architects are being “locked out or discouraged from tendering” because of the barriers such as minimum turnover levels being put in their way.
In its latest figures, the RIBA said 97% of UK practices are SMEs or micro-businesses and 79% employ 10 or fewer people.
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