Politicians constantly scrutinise the cost of the public sector building programme - the biggest in our lifetime - but how closely do they examine design standards?

In my experience, it's quite hard for the novice homeowner to find an architect. As I write this, I can see all you professional Building readers rolling your eyes. Yes, I am sure you're right, there are thousands of architects of all shapes and sizes raring to go. But where do you start? And when you find one, will they really want to contemplate a medium-sized house extension?

A few years ago, we started planning our home improvements, and such doubts kept us frozen for a good 18 months. Until that is - and quite by chance - we came across an advert in the Yellow Pages for the RIBA's find-an-architect service.

One call and we were off. We expressed our preference for a local architect who would come up with something modern. The RIBA adviser rang back a day later with six suggestions. And that was how we teamed up with the brilliant and creative Leeds-based Irena Bauman and her husband Maurice Lyons.

We spent a good year discussing ideas, sketches and plans with the Bauman Lyons team. And in the process, we discovered that Irena was also a CABE commissioner with strong views about the importance of design and environmental standards in both economic regeneration and public service projects. I have taken a close interest in CABE matters ever since - and I listened hard to their constructive criticisms of the public procurement process when I was at the Treasury.

CABE is right, in my view, to continue to press for more time for the design stage in both the conventional and PFI procurement models. And there is some truth in another CABE theme - the importance of the public sector improving its ability to be an effective client. This is one part of the public sector reform agenda where decentralisation has real downsides.

So it was a great honour for me, at the beginning of the month, to speak alongside Tessa Jowell at the launch of this year's Prime Minister's Award for Better Public Building. As John Sorrell, the current chairman of CABE, stressed, we are midway through the biggest public building process we are ever likely to see. We need to make sure we design buildings we can be proud of - and which will last.

I have certainly seen examples of bad design in my own constituency. In one town, there is a 1970s-built health centre which is so badly designed that neither of the two GP practices has a good word to say for it. The primary care trust also condemned its design when I met them. As we start the procurement of a new GP campus we will need to do a lot better.

Public procurement is one part of the public sector reform agenda where decentralisation has real downsides

On the other hand, I was relieved to discover that the plans for our hospital at Pinderfields - now at the final stage of the PFI procurement process - have been CABE-assessed and commended for their design and their sensitivity to the needs of patients.

More encouraging still is the amount of effort and thought that has gone into the design of the new Horbury secondary school in my constituency - the first new-build secondary school in our district for 30 years.

The design sets out to meet the highest BREEAM standards, with a biomass boiler burning sustainable willow. There is to be an enclosed atrium with natural ventilation.

And there has been extensive consultation with the local community as well as pupils and teachers.

I am hoping that a local CABE commissioner will visit the school to give it the thumbs-up in advance of our entry into the prime minister's design competition. Will a visit be enough to win Horbury school an award?