Lord Fraser sets out guidelines for officials, politicians and project team on major public sector projects

by the news desk

Lord Fraser has set out a list of 10 key recommendations for change at the end of his damning verdict on the handling of the Holyrood project in Edinburgh.

Despite acknowledging that the parliament building was in many respects a one-off, he said some basic principles ought to be adhered to in the future.

They centre on the selection of the project team, the procurement process and the way a project is handled by ministers.

  • On the issue of appointing designers consultants and contractors, the report says there must be an orderly evaluation of the pre-qualification questionnaires. It also calls for a consistency of approach from those making visits to the offices of bidders and a full and transparent record of all aspects of the competition.
  • On the issue of signature architects working with a Scottish-based practice – there ought to be a full and rigorous evaluation to confirm a compatibility of working cultures and practices.
  • On the construction management process – this procurement route must only be used as a last resort. Civil servants or government officials must explain risks involved in going down this road to the political leadership before a decision is made.
  • On European Union procurement rules – nobody ought to be put in charge of any public project without a demonstrable appreciation of what is required under these rules.
  • On independent professional advisers – views must not be filtered by the civil service but should be put to ministers alongside any disagreements officials may have with the judgments expressed by those advisers.
  • On the security of the building – considerations of the security and safety of public buildings must not be regarded as design afterthoughts but be integral parts of the user brief and the assessment of any proposed design.

Leading industry figures laid the blame on lack of communication between civil servants and ministers.

Joe Martin, the RICS’ executive director of building cost information, said that the difficulties with the project came down to the basics of project management – collaboration, co-ordination, communication and control.

He said: “The main problem seems to have been that the project management team were civil servants unfamiliar with construction.”

Martin added that one of the key problems was that the cost estimates made by Davis Langdon were not always passed on to politicians. “Davis Langdon kept handing over cost reports that were then butchered before being handed over to ministers.”

Bryan Stewart, head of Holyrood architect RMJM said “I think the client structure was amorphous and difficult to understand. The thing with such a multiheaded client is that good communication is paramount. There was the Scottish parliamentary corporate body, a presiding officer and an architectural adviser, and they all had an interest in the strategic development of the project. That made it a very difficult scheme.”

Strategic forum head Peter Rogers called for more accountability from public sector officials on projects of this scale.

He said: “The big issue here is honesty and trust. This project went in initially at a ridiculously low cost, and this is a traditional game that’s always played to get approval for government projects. The question is whether the officials had the skills to make some of the decisions that they did. Davis Langdon and various other members of the team appear to have rung alarm bells that were ignored.

“It would be nice if for once someone looked at the role of government. It seems blatant that officials made some dubious decisions, but the industry gets blamed for what the client said.”

In Fraser's words:

On construction management
It beggars belief that ministers were not asked to approve the proposal to adopt construction management

On decision to readmit Bovis to tender for the job
Barbara Doig [the project sponsor] was unable to provide me with any satisfactory reason for her selection of Bovis ... her decision was flawed.

On quality
Whenever there was a conflict between quality and cost, quality was preferred. Whenever there was a conflict between early completion and cost, completion was preferred without any significant acceleration being achieved

On Enric Miralles' death
His death gave rise to a substantial period of disharmony