Architects for Health IHEEM Conference Session 7th October 2014

Architects for Health IHEEM Conference Session 7th October 2014
Procurement of design services – the good, the bad and the future

With the greater majority of design services for the NHS – architects, engineers, cost consultants and the like – employed in the private sector; and the parallel rise of procurement specialists and hubs associated with the NHS, the position could be portrayed as an increasing divide. The Architects for Health session on 7th October explored the evolution of the relationship between those who commission designers and those who provide those services, and rounded off with a pair of challenges to take forward.

Chaired by Paul Mercer, former AfH Secretary and aided and abetted by Claudia Bloom of Avanti Architects and Malcolm Aiston, Director of Estates and Facilities for Northumberland Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust, the session opened up a difficult topic which seemed to strike a chord with the audience who could be heard recounting the topic throughout the rest of the day.

Paul described the history of design procurement from 1987, when he first joined the NHS and how subsequently, systems, processes and particularly the convoluted and repetitive processes of prequalification have become lengthy and often irrelevant to the commission being advertised. He gave examples of the limitations as he sees them, of the current systems and offered a glimmer of hope as “the rules” are about to change. Paul was at pains to note that there are many examples of excellent procurement in the NHS but that the poor examples were becoming more prevalent and resource-wasting.

Malcolm Aiston manages a mental health Trust estate, adopted procurement using ProCure21 many years ago – and hasn’t looked back. He advocates the concept of long-term partnerships and, with that procurement route, has certainty realised benefits in terms of cost, time and delivery by using the same approach repeatedly.

Claudia reiterated the point regarding the convoluted nature of pre-qualifications in particular and challenged those doing procurement to question whether particular lengths of essay or specific information being requested was at all important in commissioning designers. She demonstrated with examples from the RIBA Procurement Reform Group publication “Ladders of Opportunity” how design procurement in the UK is vastly more resource wasting than most of our European neighbours.

She was supported from the floor that the way that many designers and construction professionals are being procured through procurement suppliers is irrelevant and damaging to the industry. The questions being asked and the skills being tasked (e.g. answer a complex question in 1000 characters) are no measure of whether the practice can deliver a high quality and relevant project to the user client.

The levels of insurance, required, of having done three exactly the same in the last three years and the required turnover are excluding practices who would actually deliver the response the client needs. However what they are potentially getting at the moment is the lowest price and not the best value for money. This was demonstrated from the floor – the 40% cost can be scored in whole by being cheapest – however the quality score is on a sliding scale so it is almost impossible for the end user client using this system to achieve a quality result.

Paul rounded off the presentations by signalling that new EU procurement rules are about to be introduced – these were approved by Brussels earlier this year and member governments have two years to implement them. The UK government has recently issued a consultation on proposals and the general thrust is around simplification of prequalification and enabling SMEs to be considered more readily. Architects for Health will follow this with interest.

The second challenge put to the conference proposed that there is merit in bringing the large number of professional interests from within the NHS and from the private sector as well as professional bodies to a national forum with the objective of exploring the perceived stumbling blocks in current systems and focusing on a more relevant set of guidelines. Clearly, the new EU rules will play a great part in this approach.

Architects for Health sees this topic as very poignant as the NHS continues to come under an assortment of pressures and the society is planning to return to the subject as part of the programme for 2015.

Malcolm Aiston
Claudia Bloom
Paul Mercer
20 October 2014

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