CABE chairman Stuart Lipton to address new ministerial committee in May in bid to improve quality of projects across all government departments.
Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment chairman Stuart Lipton is to hold talks with junior ministers in May over improving the quality of government buildings.

The seminar, at Whitehall on 11 May, will be the first meeting of a cross-departmental standing group chaired by Cabinet Office minister Lord Falconer.

It will discuss the recommendations of two reports delivered to prime minister Tony Blair earlier this month. One of them was compiled by Lord Falconer on behalf of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport; the other by Andrew Smith, chief secretary to the Treasury.

The culture department report makes commendations on using good architects, and the Treasury report looks at value for money, good design in public procurement and how to spread best practice.

News of the new ministerial group emerged at a Treasury private finance initiative taskforce seminar, Achieving Design Quality, held last week.

At the May meeting, Lipton said he would call for a quantum shift in the skills base of government client bodies, more government demonstration projects and the adoption of benchmarks for design quality, annual maintenance costs and energy efficiency.

He said: “Out of £62bn spent each year on construction, the government and local government spends £24bn. There is a huge opportunity to make savings and a huge opportunity to put money back into design.” He added: “The quality ethic is being built into government. I hope today’s initiative will ensure the effectiveness of design quality benchmarks in public sector buildings and maximise the use of good architects.”

Last week’s seminar marked the launch of Treasury PFI taskforce guidelines explaining how good design added value and what criteria PFI clients should use to choose bids. The Treasury taskforce drew up the guidelines in consultation with the CABE, the Construction Industry Council and the National Audit Office.

Lipton said the guidance was “all about achieving best value, design that delivers affordability, functionality and contributes to the well-being of users”.

He added: “Standardising the service elements of a building will make it lower cost, not standardising the architecture.”

It also emerged at the seminar that the PFI taskforce’s policy team has commissioned Arthur Andersen to work on compiling yardsticks to assess PFI projects, known as public sector comparators. This was revealed after delegates complained that inappropriate yardsticks were a barrier to design quality in PFI projects.

Tim White, head of the Treasury private finance policy team, said: “This will be an important agenda for the Office of Government Commerce,” referring to the procurement agency that comes into being on 1 April.