Expert Update | Design: A standard route

Expert Update | Design: A standard route

Rob Woolston is a Director at AJ100 practice, rg+p. He has over 20 years’ experience in residential development and oversees a team of architects, masterplanners and urban designers. Fore more information visit rg+p’s website.

Rob Woolston, Director at multi-disciplinary design practice, rg+p, highlights some of the frustrations with the bidding and procurement process and calls upon the industry to join together to devise a more standardised route.

A large percentage of public sector architectural work is procured through frameworks, tenders or bids, so it’s unsurprising that most UK practices employ a dedicated team or specialist to complete applications. However, what’s becoming increasingly apparent is the disparity between the requirements of each application and how navigating this can not only be a time-consuming and costly exercise but also has the potential to stall development and stifle creativity.

Firstly, there’s at least three different types of portals and platforms to check or register with for notifications; those who notify, those who host and those who do both, and even within the same portal the requirements can be different. Although the government tried to address this with the introduction of the Standard Selection Questionnaire (SSQ), this has only gone some way towards standardisation because the presentation of the SSQ differs from portal to portal e.g. as a download on one and online on another, but also changes depending on the client’s initial requirements. There’s also too much variation, with some clients accepting an SSQ (albeit with extra quality questions attached) as a one stage process whilst others require a PQQ followed by ITT.

Secondly there appears to be a great deal of repetition; quality questions phrased in such a way that the information requested is a duplicate of that provided elsewhere, or with such unclear language that a clarification needs to be raised. In our experience, it’s not uncommon for clarifications to exceed 150 on a single bid, which is ludicrous.

Additionally, many of the requisite examples are framed around historical experience, so for instance to bid for an affordable housing development within a region you might need to provide case study examples of three previous projects from this sector or region. This can be extremely prohibitive, and precludes the opportunity for new talent to emerge; what if you only have one or two suitable? Eligibility is immediately removed.

Cumbersome process
What this means in real terms is that the whole process becomes cumbersome, and sometimes there is a need to make a choice about which ones to apply for, possibly at the expense of others. For SMEs this can be catastrophic, and work is being missed purely because of a lack of resource. As an industry, we need to address this.

Ideally, there needs to be a complete overhaul to create a simplified, consistent and centralised process. A standardised time period would help, so each successful framework has a guaranteed longevity before elapsing. Granted there are exceptions to this, Dynamic Purchasing Systems being an example, but they are not the rule.

Options to select and quote for particular projects would be another; it’s common to be asked to provide a schedule of costs but these are often unwieldy, with parameters that are too restrictive. Being able to identify an individual project and provide a bespoke quotation, rather than a ball park, would improve both transparency and creativity.

Admittedly there is no ‘quick fix’ solution to this process and naturally other practices will have their own frustrations with the idiosyncrasies but surely the message it its time to open the conversation?

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