Procurement & tendering processes

Project Compass Director Walter Menteth will be delivering:

A series of six RIBA Core CPD webinars on Procurement & Tendering Processes between now & November 2021.

You can book a place HERE, or your practice can contact the RIBA Head of CPD for an ‘in-practice’ delivered webinar (1, 2 or a grouping of practices).

Subjects addressed include procurement: –

  • principles,
  • regulations,
  • practices,
  • UK outcomes,
  • guidance for competitive bidding,
  • the proposed post Brexit Reforms,
  • issues & opportunities for the profession to lead in informing better public procurement going forward.

The post Brexit reforms (‘Transforming Public Procurement‘. Dec 2020) have now been tabled. The proposed reforms will have major impacts on architectural procurement for a generation.

Project Compass with the London Practice Forum have submitted a response paper which can be viewed HERE.

Transforming public procurement: Response to the Government consultation

Consultation response on UK Gov. post Brexit public procurement reform proposals.

Procurement reform consultation response 10/03/2021
Procurement reform consultation response 10/03/2021

This submission responds to the consultation on post Brexit reform of public procurement being proposed by the UK Government, published on 15 Dec. 2020.  While many of the proposed reforms are welcomed, such as the greater focus on long term outcomes and social value, this response highlights further opportunities to secure design quality, innovation, ease of access, and better construction sector procurement.

However most of the objectives raised appear possible under the Public Contract Regulations (PCR 2015)) and rather than reforming the legislation, a profound improvement in capacity, capability and culture is thought of greater value for achieving the objectives being sought.

Making proportionality a primary principle in procurement, retaining Design Contest procedures and assessment of fees on a mean narrowed average basis are among matters raised.

A primary principle in procurement should be proportionality, so that processes and procedures are most appropriate. For consultants in construction a specific concern is that the Design Contest Procedure is not included. This is the only procedure provided specifically for the appointment of architects and planners. It has an anonymous, qualitative and peer review assessment and selection procedure based on a spatial design proposition. It is a long standing internationally recognised competition format well explained within the Project Compass Design Contest Guidance. This procedure provides unique and innovative opportunities. 

This March 2021 joint response is a collaboration between Project Compass CIC and The London Practice Forum synthesised from responses received from friends and members of both organisations to a call for views on the Gov. outlined proposals.

LPF is a membership organisation of 22 architectural firms with a shared interest in fundamental challenges such as the ongoing climate crisis, the lack of diversity within the architectural profession and the poor quality of many of the buildings produced by it.

Covid-19: PPN 01/20

On 19 March 2020 the Government issued Procurement Policy Note (PPN) 01/20 responding to COVID-19.

“In these exceptional circumstances, authorities may need to procure goods, services and works with extreme urgency.

Authorities are permitted to do this using regulation 32(2)(c) under the Public Contract Regulations 2015.”

Regulation 32 (2)(c) states the following: –

32.— (2) The negotiated procedure without prior publication may be used for public works contracts, public supply contracts and public service contracts in any of the following cases:—

(c) insofar as is strictly necessary where, for reasons of extreme urgency brought about by events unforeseeable by the contracting authority, the time limits for the open or restricted procedures or competitive procedures with negotiation cannot be complied with. – expanded & relaunched the first international portal for architecture commissions covering all European countries has now been relaunched. It remains free to all but with its new and expanded form it now covers thirty-nine European Countries. offers greater access and insights into public procurement and competition culture in Europe, contributing to improving construction culture across the continent.

The new easy to use homepage provides access to:

  • The European legislation which applies, and which can be read in each countries operating language.
  • The national flag links to the public procurement legislation of the country in question.
  • Public procurement and competition portals for each country so they can be directly accessed and consulted.
  • Competitions guidance, information and research publications from each country
  • Links to architecture networks along with public and private organisations involved in public procurement and competitions in that country.

Never before has all this information about each of the 39 European countries been compiled, presented and made so fully accessible.

This project aligns with the European Ministers of Culture’s call in the Davos Declaration 2018, for development of a high-quality ‘building culture’ in Europe. has been created in close collaboration between ourselves (UK), Architectuur Lokaal (NL), A10 new European architecture cooperative (EU) and many partners in various European countries. The relaunched site further implements collaborations, analysis, research, findings and development scoped by Project Compass CIC, Architectur Lokaal, within the ‘European Competition Programmer Handbook:GreenArch project results‘, by the ‘Competition Culture in Europe Programme‘ and at International competitions gatherings held in Prague (CZ), Paris (FR), London (UK), Amsterdam (NL), Venice (IT), Chęciny (PL) and Vilnius (LT). is being maintained with the support of the Creative Industries Fund NL by Architectuur Lokaal (NL). The portal will continue to develop over time.

Additions and feedback are welcome.

VAT reform would promote CO2 emissions reductions, more sustainable building & cost nothing – so why the delay?

Image: 1t CO2. Olafur Eliasson. Tate Gallery 2019.

A Project Compass response to the Climate and Biodiversity Emergency objectives defined in ARCHITECTS DECLARE.

(revised & updated from a Walter Menteth article 1st published in AJ: Sustainability in Practice. 28th February 2014) [i]

Government for too long has been missing an enormous opportunity to incentivise investment in sustainable construction: VAT reform. This means redressing the long-standing skew in favour of new build over refurbishment. Current VAT rates5% for new construction and 20% for refurbishment – distort the market in favour of new build. VAT is a powerful tool which must now be used here and abroad to help accelerate low-carbon sustainable construction.

The majority of C02 emissions in the built environment emanate from existing buildings. Yet because they exist, they have the lowest embodied energy. Rather than demolishing and rebuilding whenever the most sustainable solution is upgrading an existing building evidentially this should be done. Because there is not a level playing field, the current disparity between VAT rates results in a significant financial penalty for refurbishment.

A policy paper on UK architectural VAT was produced by the RIBA’s Procurement Reform Group in 2013 (LINK AVAILABLE HERE).[ii] This recommended reforming VAT with a new ‘payment by results’ quality-based approach which was evaluated to have minimal impact on HRMC tax revenues. This relies on an incentive structure where specifically sustainable construction is met or exceeded delivering VAT benefits. This creates an incentive for greener construction and better performance.


1. First, the current 20 per cent VAT rate on repair and improvement work to existing buildings should be reduced to 5%, when the works deliver sustainability benefits that are certifiable above the minimum level of the current Building Regulations. This would encourage investment on improving performance across the existing stock.

As an essential first step reduction of the VAT rates on refurbishment to create a level playing field with new build, as has long been called for, is now urgently required.

But VAT should also be a tool to further accelerate CO2 reductions, improvements and innovation.

2. Second, there should be a standard 5% VAT rate on new-build residential dwellings. This would be applied except where such works would deliver sustainability benefits that are certifiably above the minimum level of the Building Regulations, in which case the current zero per cent VAT rate would be applied.

In both cases, the certifiable sustainability level above the regulatory minimum would in quantum and detail be set by a reasonable margin. The margins could be introduced with suitable transitional arrangements progressively adjusted and modelled for neutral cost to the exchequer. This approach to VAT reform would encourage UK homeowners to undertake sustainable improvements, and incentivise developers and industry to drive CO2 emissions reductions and push qualitative improvements in new building performance. Circular economic principles, local sourcing, recycling, upcycling, and waste reduction along with social values are all standards which could also be applied upon certification. This would further stimulate quality and professionalism, across the sector and particularly on smaller developments, reduce the grey economy that is encouraged by current VAT differentials.


The following is recommended as a development model.

Prior to the start of construction anticipated performance targets relative to Building Regulations would be set. Certification of building performance at completion is currently available through a Building Regulations completion certificate. But in this case certification extends to cover measurable performance standards upon completion and/or POE (post occupancy evaluation, as opposed to simply the designed standards).

A ‘stick’ or a ‘carrot’ approach is proposed for implementating VAT reform.

In the ‘stick’ approach.

  • A developer client would always have an incentive to achieve the lowest possible VAT rate.
  • Developer clients with design teams and contractors electing to construct projects targeted at achieving the lowest possible VAT level, where the targeted outputs were not achieved on completion, would become liable to tax.
  • For new build if a designed VAT rate of 0% was therefore targeted, and not achieved, a 5% VAT liability would arise. In refurbishment where a 5% VAT rate was targeted and not achieved, a 20% VAT liability would arise.

In the ‘carrot’ approach.

  • For developer clients with design teams and contractors working on projects targeting the higher levels of VAT, where the targeted performance outputs were exceeded sufficiently on completion, a tax could become recoverable.

What has been learnt from the Green Deal is the need to develop robust and simple solutions with the widest possible market penetration. Pragmatically and to reduce complexity therefore, it is probable that the easiest option would be to determine VAT rates at the commencement of construction for all at 5%, and then use the stick approach on refurbishment and the carrot approach for new build.

VAT reform is nothing new. In 1999, the Urban Task Force chaired by Richard Rogers included harmonisation of VAT rates as one of its recommendations. This proposition offers potential to rapidly incentivise change to more sustainable zero carbon construction, and at no cost to the exchequer, as part of the jigsaw needing implementation. It is also an international model transferable to other contexts.

If the government is to achieve significant UK carbon emissions reduction before 2050 construction VAT should be reformed now.

We cannot afford to wait any longer!

[i] Menteth. W., Sustainability in practice: VAT reform would promote sustainable building and cost nothing- so why the delay? 28 Feb 2014, In: Architects’ Journal . 239, 8, p. 62

[ii] Menteth W., Incentivising design quality and sustainability, VAT Policy paper. RIBA February 2013. [RIBA policy paper prepared by the author Feb 2013]

The temporary House of Commons & restoration of the Palace of Westminster

What was the question this proposed temporary Parliamentary chamber and the restoration of the Palace of Westminster endeavours to answer?

  • Is it reinstating and refurbishing Barry’s 165+ year old Palace of Westminster which is now clearly no longer fit for purpose, too small and inadequate, in need of reform, and in a country desperately needing regional regeneration? And all at a time when Gov. has divested its civil service premises across Whitehall?  
  • Is this restoration being embarked on when a new constitutional settlement appears to be needed as the nations of the UK are perilously close to splitting, and what message will this contribute to that debate? Or for example at a time when there is a known need for reform of the House of Lords, which few have had the courage to face, while Parliamentarians still have constrained and inappropriate accommodation?
  • Is this just another vanity project that has had insufficient public debate, lacks imagination, vision and leadership, due interrogation, scrutiny, evaluation and appraising of the underlying need? Because this appears to have been procured with Grayling panache and many similar deficiencies to Brexit, Crossrail, or the Garden Bridge etc. – that certainly won’t elicit public confidence in either process or results.
  • Might the lack of any interrogation and resolution be further manifestation, if any was needed, of the institution of Parliament failing its wider remit?
  • Although the project management may be evolving towards an ‘Olympics style’ delivery, is the raison d’etra simply expeditious, poorly considered and lacking foresight?

To some/all of these questions, and for many, the answer is increasingly YES![i]  (whatever the merits of the architecture of this temporary Parliamentary chamber, the demolition of the grade 11 Whitefield building and the recent Bill to oversee restoration and renewal of the Palace of Westminster, introduced only recently)[ii]  

Why the Palace of Westminster and temporary Parliament building might be the most appropriately progressive upcycling of well-loved buildings has not been sufficiently debated, cogently argued nor tenably expressed.

Unless persuasive arguments can be advanced, achieve consensus and national commitment within the current and emerging political context, the Parliamentary restoration project will likely become increasingly fraught while, ironically, further undermining the institution it seeks to restore.

The MP’s expenses scandal may pale to insignificance if in this context this is seen as another case of Gov. and parliamentarians ‘open’ accounting – ie spending recklessly, wilfully and on their own vain frivolity.

The IMF report that the Tories have now borrowed £816 bn in 8 years, while in 8 years they’ve increased debt by £1 trillion from £759 bn to £1.7 trillion, which is more than Labour ever did in 33 years in office. At issue is whether such sums might be better expended on addressing many pressing social, environmental and economic needs, as well as the robust institutions necessary to provide them. Yet instead hugely wasteful spending is detrimentally growing. 

This project is equally in danger of becoming a national millstone. It forms part of the £1.6bn masterplan, the Palace of Westminster refurbishment is projected to cost £4bn while the temporary building will cost roughly £400m.[iii]  The Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee recently reported that The Palace of Westminster refurbishment, relocation costs and programme remained vague and unverifiable. 

“the process by which and by whom some decisions have been taken on restoration and renewal to date are opaque” and it concluded “it is our view that it would be imprudent for the House to commit to a specific option or timetable”. [iv]  

The costs inevitably will rise yet the projects value and political suitability, beyond symbolism, nostalgia and geographic inertia, appear undefined.

When Barry won the design contest in 1835 for The Palace of Westminster he estimated a construction time of six years, and a cost of £724,986.  The public competition stipulated that the style was to be either Classical (associated with revolution and republicanism) or Gothic (associated with conservative values). Land was reclaimed from the Thames flood plain for the construction. The project in fact took more than 30 years to build, at a cost of over £2 million, with The House of Lords first sitting in their new purpose-built chamber in 1847 and the Commons in 1852.[v]  Perhaps there are some lessons here, and in 100-165 years with sea levels due to rise this will be a strategically vulnerable site, if government is planning for resilience and sustainability.

Because the current proposals don’t seem to have any vision, foresight, logic or clear sense of the zeitgeist, the country might like to know where all this money is going and why this is an appropriate spend.

This project doesn’t seem fit for a fluid, progressive and modern democracy.

Palace of Westminster

An indicative image of the temporary House of Commons Chamber, which will feature new public and press galleries, public spaces for visitors, and education and participation spaces. Source:Forbes Massie Studio


1. Indicative image of the temporary House of Commons Chamber, which will feature new public and press galleries, public spaces for visitors, and education and participation spaces. Source:Allford Hall Monaghan Morris.

[i] Temporary Parliament ‘extravagant, time wasting and destructive’, say heritage campaigners and architects. Harry Yorke, The Telegraph 10 May 2019

[ii] Parliamentary Buildings (Restoration and Renewal) Bill 388 2017-19

[iii] Parliament refurb: AHMM reveals first images of MPs’ temporary home. Richard Waite, Merlin Fulcher. Architects’ Journal 8 May 2019.

[iv] PAC. Report 16 March 2017 on Restoration and Renewal of the Palace of Westminster: Preliminary Report Contents.

[v] Architecture of the Palace. Rebuilding the Palace

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.



Northern Ireland is now open to fixed fee tenders

In N. Ireland methodologies on the procurement of design, where lowest price is no longer the determining factor have now been agreed between the Central Procurement Directorate (CPD), the RSUA & the construction sector (announced Sept. 2018). This halts the race to the bottom.

Under the pilot all construction services contracts to be awarded by CPD, both above and below the EU threshold, will be awarded in one of the following ways:

  • Projects with no quality assessment at tender stage will be awarded based on the Mean Narrow Average calculation;
  • Projects with a quality and price assessment at tender stage will base the price score on the Mean Narrow Average calculation; or
  • Projects with a fixed fee tender will be awarded on the assessment of quality only.

The first CPD procurement using the Mean Narrow Average is currently at prequalification stage.

Mean Narrow Average

In a move to ensure value, the fundamental shift is that the best price will no longer be the lowest price but the price that is closest to an average.  The average that will be used is a ‘narrow average’. The lowest price and highest price are not part of the calculation to establish the ‘narrow average’.

Full details of the Mean Narrow Average calculation are available HERE.  Those interested in bidding for CPD projects are strongly advised to review this and ensure they fully understand it.

For all in construction, and design professionals in particular this is surely an extremely welcome and long overdue step.

But this is not the only one of the advances being made in the UK nations -N. Ireland, Scotland and Wales have all now also adopted Project Bank Accounts although from different threshold values.

Isn’t it now time for England to advance, reform and follow suite?

No Brexit deal – Accessing Procurement Notices

If there is no Brexit deal significant questions need answering about how all UK public contracts covering services, works and supplies, will be published, accessed, completed and remain transparent for public clients and commerce. Government announced on 13 September 2018 that if there is no deal a new UK e-notification replacement system will be made available on 29 March 2019, and notices will be published there, rather than in ‘The Official Journal of the European Union’ (OJEU) published online via Tenders Electronic Daily (TED) .  Continue reading “No Brexit deal – Accessing Procurement Notices”

Carillion’s Collapse. Let’s learn lessons from this failure.

Carillion’s collapse: Project Compass director Russell Curtis has called in ‘Let’s hope the lessons of Carillion’s failure will be learnt’, (AJ 17 January 2018) for “a more diverse supply chain to avoid another Carillion catastrophe, so we can face a future with a diverse, specialist and varied supply chain, which matches projects with proficiency and project scale with practice size.”

The growing crisis within the building industry shows that the driving policies and practices which are aggregating contracting into ever larger private contracts is simply failing, from the Edinburgh Schools fiasco, Grenfell and now Carillion’s collapse.

In UK procurement far practice greater regard now needs to be placed on the available provisions within Directive 2014/24/EU and the Public Contract Regulations 2015 (noted in the informative below).  These provisions have to date been in effect disregarded in procurement within England.

Continue reading “Carillion’s Collapse. Let’s learn lessons from this failure.”