But while there will be no immediate change to the principles underlying public procurement, such as bidding procedures and financial thresholds, the Cabinet Office is holding a consultation on what changes firms would like to see made to the procurement system.
It has published a green paper, Transforming Public Procurement, examining possible future changes, such as combining all current regulations into one, and whether to award contracts based on the most advantageous firm for the contract, rather than the most financially advantageous bid.
The consultation has been broadly welcomed by the profession.
RIBA president Alan Jones. ‘I expressly welcome this long-overdue move to improve government procurement processes,’ he said. ‘I hope this consultation will lead to reforms that embed high-quality design, safety and sustainability within publicly procured buildings from inception to occupation; place value on the expertise of architects and effort required; and give equal opportunity to practices to secure public contracts.’
He added: ‘The RIBA will be responding to the consultation shortly, highlighting the significance of social value within procurement, to help guarantee the delivery of well-designed buildings and spaces fit for future generations.’
RCKa director Russell Curtis said the green paper had the ‘potential to transform public-sector commissioning for the better, particularly in its emphasis on social value, transparency and lifecycle performance.’
He said: ‘We desperately need a centralised procurement platform to replace the fragmented, proprietary portals – many of which seem to have been designed in a different age and are the scourge of tenderers – and a single supplier registration system will be a huge step forward in streamlining the process for both sides.’
But Curtis warned that without clear and specific guidance on how these objectives are to be implemented, such as intelligent methods for price scoring, ‘there’s a real risk that these bold proposals will fall on deaf ears.’ He added: ‘A long-overdue change in procurement culture, rather than a change in legislation, will have the most profound impact. But, all in all, this is hugely welcome.’
Becca Thomas, creative director and architect at New Practice was ‘delighted’ at proposals contained in the Green Paper for social value to be regarded as an award criterion to help support innovation and different approaches, but suggested other parts of the document made for ‘less easy reading.’
Thomas explained: ‘The introduction of freedom for buyers to negotiate and innovate to “get the best” from social enterprises and charities concerns us as it suggests asking those businesses and individuals to work under market rates in the delivery of innovation.
‘Most concerning is the proposal to “slash 350+ regulation governing public procurement” without any detail on what will be removed to ensure a single uniform framework. The consultation questions for this section boil down to “what would you keep” which doesn’t inspire confidence that the slashing will be done with care or consideration for the impacts. A lot of the right buzzwords are present, but without the detail to back them up.
Walter Menteth of Project Compass, which campaigns for procurement reform, suggested many of the proposed changes could have been achieved under the existing system ‘were it not for the UK’s deeply embedded predispositions to do the most complex things possible, inflexibility.’
He added: ‘Much will emerge in the details, particularly on how transparency, accessibility, scrutiny and policing develop, but as this government has already had a decade to resolve practices here – it is difficult to foresee what’s on offer as being the resolution.’
Chris Boyce of Assorted Skills + Talents* commented: ‘The system will change but the real shift will only come if design projects are decided on design grounds but fairly – with money being paid for ideas. Our IP is our wealth and we give it away all the time.’
The government has also posted an online introduction to the new Find a Tender system.