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.

[ii] RIBA sells £31.8m stake in its commercial arm to Lloyds Bank


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