Isn’t it time for the RIBA to do more to address the appalling state of UK public procurement? Here’s an idea.

Project Compass Director Russell Curtis explains the Bloom Framework.

Here’s a brief thread on how, were it so minded, the RIBA could radically transform the UK public procurement landscape…for architects, at least.

The Bloom Framework is a privately-owned, OJEU-compliant framework

Let’s start with Bloom. Bloom is a private framework with which many architects may already be familiar. Public bodies can use this to “call off” individual practices, run small invited competitions, or full open tenders.

The reason they can do this is because Bloom is already a tier 1 supplier on an OJEU-compliant framework (NEPRO). It can appoint who it likes as a sub-contractor, hence its ability to run procurements however it wants.

This is not an altruistic enterprise: Bloom simply charges 5% on top of the agreed fee to administer the service. Both client and consultant accept this as it’s cheaper and quicker than running a separate procurement exercise for every project. It’s big business: last year Bloom Procurement Services Limited turned over £92m (note that all payments to the supply chain are made through Bloom as an intermediary, so this turnover is likely to be the total value of work procured through the framework, of which Bloom itself will take around 5%).

Now imagine that instead of running dubious competitions, RIBA was to set up a similar framework, offering architectural services to public clients. There are few organisations with the weight and reputation to fund and administer such a thing[i].

Also, now that it has a chunk of cash to spend, it could set up a similar framework, either running a full OJEU procedure itself or by applying to be a supplier to an existing one (as with Bloom)[ii].

The RIBA could demand of its subcontractors any qualification requirements it wishes…for example, that all should be Chartered Practices (or at least, if this was an OJEU framework, that all suppliers are architects with Chartered Practices or RIBA members receiving free access). Think about it: exclusive access to framework which circumvents costly, complex OJEU and is only accessible to its members! A further advantage is that the RIBA could re-establish a fee scale, requiring all architects on this framework to adhere to a predetermined range of fees. Public bodies could then choose whether to accept the terms of this framework, or to go elsewhere. My feeling is that many, in light of the Grenfell tragedy, have a new focus on delivering quality, and therefore are more likely to accept this over lowest cost.

That would certainly be something worth joining the RIBA for. And it wouldn’t cost the institute anything—in fact, as Bloom has demonstrated, it could actually make it money! People would join the RIBA just to get access to this framework, helping to combat declining membership and bringing income into the institute to subsidise its other work.

So isn’t it time for the RIBA to step up to the plate and do something to address the appalling state of UK public procurement? What is there to lose?


[i]  RIBA Competitions Office. Upper Orwell Crossings Project. https://www.architecture.com/awards-and-competitions-landing-page/competitions-landing-page/upper-orwell-crossings

[ii] RIBA sells £31.8m stake in its commercial arm to Lloyds Bank https://www.architectsjournal.co.uk/news/riba-sells-318m-stake-in-its-commercial-arm-to-lloyds-bank/10032009.article

 

Survey Results on UK Government Framework Agreements 2018

Results from the survey to discover if SMEs found the widely adopted Framework Agreement a simple and rewarding process for winning new business from government are now reported below and available HERE.

The survey has been run on behalf of the Frameworks Working Group, a part of the independent SME Advisory Panel advising on central government procurement and targeted key small businesses (& not just construction professionals) providing a wide range of niche products and services to departments across Whitehall.

The results from more than 200 responses are clear.

Framework agreements are often disliked by SMEs who feel that they are written in complex language, have expensive and time consuming tender processes, are inflexible and favour large companies over smaller ones.

Crown Commercial Service are studying the report’s findings and have pointed to several new and ongoing actions government is taking to level the playing field for small businesses including:

  • considering where different kinds of procurement vehicle, including Dynamic Purchasing Systems, are suitable delivery models. Crown Commercial Service itself has launched three DPSs in the last 12 months, with five more being developed. We also know of a number of these flexible systems across other government departments;
  • simplifying public procurement with the new, plain English ‘Public Sector Contract’ – removing duplication from the application process for suppliers;
  • consulting on proposals to exclude suppliers from major government procurements if they cannot demonstrate fair, reliable and effective payment practices with their subcontractors;
  • requiring suppliers to advertise subcontracting opportunities via the Contracts Finder website and to provide the government with data showing how businesses in their supply chain, including small businesses, are benefiting from supplying to central government.

2018_FRAMEWORK SURVEY_RESULTS 

 

Central Government Framework Agreements Survey

Framework SurveyFrameworks bedevil SME Design Professionals so please take this opportunity to complete this survey here on Government Framework Agreements to communicate your views and help formulate better policy for SME access & engagement, before the 31st of March deadline.

The survey results will be reported on Project Compass in due course.

The letter transcribed below sets out the purpose and objectives of the survey:

” The UK Government is committed to achieving a target that one pound in every three of public money spent annually on goods and services will be spent with small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) by the end of the parliament.  One of the areas under consideration for improvement is Government Framework Agreements as they relate to SMEs.

By engaging with SMEs differently it is hoped that many more will take part in, and benefit from, new business either directly with government, or indirectly as sub-contractors to Prime Contractors.

The Frameworks Group working within the Cabinet Office SME Panel has been considering this matter and we are now conducting some independent research amongst SMEs to gather measurable information.  The results will inform our advice to the Crown Commercial Service, which is part of the Cabinet Office, about the future direction of this type of central government agreement.

If your company is an SME and has had experience of Framework Agreements whilst working with, or attempting to work with the UK Government or its Prime Contractors, we would be interested to hear your views.  If you have had no experience at all then please disregard this survey.

All contributions are anonymous and should be completed before 31st March 2018 in order for your data to be included in the results.

We have timed participation to less than ten minutes.  We greatly appreciate your help in this matter.

Please click here to participate in this independent study.

Many thanks and kind regards.

Jonathan Lewis

Chair, Frameworks Working Group, Cabinet Office SME Panel”