Birmingham council’s payments reignite criticism of architects ’creaming off cash’ from projects

Two architecture practices received a total of £1.1m in fees for acting as client design advisers on Birmingham council’s Building Schools for the Future scheme, a freedom of information request has revealed.

The figures, obtained by Building’s sister magazine Building Design under the Freedom of Information Act, show that Birmingham paid £1.1 million to architects who acted as client design advisers (CDAs) on its £2.4 billion BSF project.

The revelation will support criticisms from education secretary Michael Gove that architects “creamed off cash” from the £55bn BSF programme, which was axed in July amid criticism from government that it did not offer value for money.

Sole practitioner and former Riba president nominee Simon Foxell — who says he sub-contracted some of the work and charged £100 an hour — was paid £724,250 over four years. This included £382,021 in a single year.

The remaining amount went to Matthew Springett’s MSA Architects, also London-based, which received £375,054.

The news has revived the debate sparked by education secretary Michael Gove, who earlier this year faced criticism from the Riba when he accused architects of “creaming off cash” under BSF.

Graham Stuart, Tory chairman of the Commons education select committee, called the payments “morally offensive”, but said he did not blame the architects involved.

“Most of the school estate is now in desperate need of attention,” he said. “If I was a school that needed repairs I would be horrified and furious to know that hundreds of thousands of pounds can be passed on to one [consultancy] firm. It’s bad business and morally offensive.

“I don’t blame the professionals, it’s entirely the fault of the burdensome and bureaucratic BSF system that was set up by the last government. We wasted all this money and the money wasn’t even ours because we were borrowing it.”

He added that the quality of new school buildings had suffered because of the amount spent on consultants.

Schools architects also expressed surprised at the scale of Foxell’s fee.

“I have never heard of anything of that scale of earnings in my life,” one said. “It’s more than the prime minister gets and the chief executives of many major companies.

“It is industry standard to have terms to limit the amount running out of control. No public authority should engage someone on such a basis.”

Foxell defended the fees, which he said were paid for the equivalent of 2.5 full-time staff charging about £100 an hour. He said he also provided technical advice and project management on up to 30 schools.

“The fees we charge are on a par with other advisers in the construction industry and are far lower than those who advise on legal or financial matters,” he said. “The fact that there was a lot of work to do is reflected in the size of the fee.”

Springett said his practice’s fee included expenses, covered advice, evaluation and consultation as well as producing a “significant number of detailed feasibility studies and site appraisals”.

Client design advisors (CDAs) were required by BSF delivery body Partnerships for Schools. Some local authorities had the in-house expertise to do it themselves but many others relied on consultants.

On Monday, Gove — who was opening Penoyre & Prasad’s new BSF school in Tottenham — said he stood by his original claim.

But Riba president Ruth Reed maintained her criticism of the minister’s views.

“There is no suggestion that fees for architects are out of control — quite the reverse,” she said. “If you are trying to suggest £100 an hour is unreasonable for professional consultancy then you are not going to get much sympathy from the profession.”

A version of this story first appeared in Building’s sister title, Building Design.


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