Learning from the launch of the Project Management and Full Design Team Services framework
As sagas go, the launch of the government’s Project Management and Full Design Team Services framework is starting to feel like construction’s answer to War and Peace - albeit with a slightly less catchy title.
With more than 400 tender clarifications issued in the run-up to bid submissions, and the deal a year late in going live and counting, the controversy surrounding the £750m framework deepened further this week with news that Turner & Townsend has launched a formal legal challenge against the award of the deal. Meanwhile, the standstill period on the framework has been extended again.
What exactly has gone wrong throughout the whole duration of the process, and who is to blame, will doubtless be questioned in the legal process that is now beginning - whether or not the challenge to the actual award is ultimately successful
The usually measured Lance Taylor, chief executive of Rider Levett Bucknall, a firm not on any of the four lots for which appointments are known, has now broken silence on the procurement to brand it a “shambles”. This speaks volumes about the sector’s frustration with the handling of such a major deal, especially from a government client which, frankly, should be doing better.
What exactly has gone wrong throughout the whole duration of the process, and who is to blame, will doubtless be questioned in the legal process that is now beginning - whether or not the challenge to the actual award is ultimately successful. But the Cabinet Office, which oversees the framework, should already be asking some tough questions of UK SBS, the private sector organisation that it brought in to take over the procurement process last September. At that time, a spokesperson told Building that bringing UK SBS in would “save money and increase efficiency in procurement across the public sector”.
As well as the delays directly associated with the framework, there are now rumblings from the industry that some clients hoping to use the framework are holding back schemes as they await its launch. This is deeply concerning: the knock-on effect of the delays to the framework is, it seems, not just a matter of concern to those firms hoping for a place on the deal, but to wider supply chains as well. It is also a real indictment on public sector procurement efficiency, particularly when set against the rhetoric of a government claiming it understands the need to drive construction projects forward to continue an industry recovery that is still far too reliant on the housing market.
The framework procurement also runs counter to the government’s strategy for helping construction’s recovery in a second respect: the lots known about include no SMEs, despite that supposedly being part of the rationale behind breaking it into professional segments. An only slightly better SME showing was apparent on the Education Funding Agency’s regional framework, launched earlier this month. The reasons for this are unclear, but it does highlight, again, how the government is often failing in reality to put in place solutions to help the industry’s still fragile recovery that it espouses in theory.
The gap between intention and outcome, in respect of both efficiency and SME inclusion, is extremely worrying from the industry’s single largest client. But, in a sense, the fact that this is a government framework does offer an opportunity. Whatever has gone wrong with the deal, there is obviously a lot to learn from its problems. And if those lessons are shared across government - quickly - maybe a host of other procurements will avoid similar pitfalls.
The biggest potential pitfall, however, given that government is notoriously disjointed in its approach to the sector, is the risk that we will see whatever mistakes have occurred repeated time and time again.
Sarah Richardson, editor