Corporation’s internal documents disclose bitter year-long battle between Bovis and Schal for £400m contract

The impact of the Freedom of Information Act on the construction industry was revealed this week when Building obtained sensitive internal documents relating to the £400m redevelopment of Broadcasting House, the BBC’s London headquarters.

The documents, which include emails, letters, reports and minutes of the BBC’s internal management meetings, tell the story of the bitter struggle between Bovis and Schal for the role of construction manager.

They also reveal the degree of scrutiny that public sector procurement decisions may now be subjected to.

The papers sent to Building by the BBC reveal that:

  • Schal was initially favoured for the contract by Currie & Brown, the scheme’s cost consultant.
  • Schal believed that the bid process had been “rigged” in favour of Bovis. Bovis was known to have a close relationship with Land Securities, which was the BBC’s preferred development partner for the scheme.
  • Terry Chapman, the managing director of Schal, raised this claim repeatedly with Chris Evans, who was the BBC’s project director during the procurement battle. Schal also raised its concerns directly with a BBC governor through its parent firm Carillion.
  • Schal’s fee bid was lower than that of Bovis, but neither was the lowest of the five shortlisted.

The documents also lay bare:

The documents, include emails, letters and minutes of the BBC’s internal management meetings

  • The reasons why the BBC finally plumped for Bovis seven months after Schal emerged as the frontrunner.
  • The fact that the BBC offered to repay Schal part of its bidding costs after it chose Bovis.
  • The advisory role in the bidding process of Dermot Gleeson, a BBC governor and chairman of contractor MJ Gleeson. Gleeson did not bid for the BBC contract.

Building first revealed concern over the bidding process in February 2003. The BBC took almost a year to decide on a construction manager for the MacCormac Jamieson Prichard refurbishment.

Project director Evans, who has since died, strenuously denied that Bovis had been unfairly favoured for the job.

He said then: “The important thing is that at the end of the exercise, taking all the information on board, Bovis had the job. It was the right organisation and has proved that since.”

As predicted last month by Rudi Klein, a barrister and head of the Specialist Engineering Contractors Group, contractors and subcontractors who lose out on public sector projects can discover the value of rival bids, and find out what criteria were used to evaluate them. These could form the basis of legal action if the public authority behaved unfairly.