Procurement is 'elephant in the room'

7 July 2020

Procurement is choking the built environment industry and needs reform, according to an architect running for presidency of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA).

Nick Moss, co-founder of architectural practice Sixtwo, said procurement was the “elephant in the room” when it came to the sector addressing issues such as climate change, equality, diversity, mental health, fees and pay.

On his website as part of his campaign, Moss said procurement underpinned everything. “Procurement is choking our industry at all levels and stages,” he said. “This lamentable system works badly for everyone, including our clients. A vicious cycle of deteriorating service is creating an impoverished built environment. Grenfell has shown modern procurement’s race to the bottom can have catastrophic results.”

The Hackitt review identified the role of procurement in a list of failings that culminated in the deaths of 72 people in the Grenfell fire.

Moss, a member of the RIBA Northwest Council, wrote: “I once believed that trying to change modern procurement was futile. The commonly-held views on risk meant that no one would consider alternatives to design and build contracts. Then I witnessed the Scottish schools PFI failure. I witnessed the growing unviability of modern contracting. I witnessed the reduction of quality in the most expensive place to build in Europe. I witnessed these events with increasing concern. Then Grenfell happened. For me, it was a tipping point. Difficult though the task may be, avoiding it is no longer an option.”

He said that as RIBA president he would use its resources to fight for procurement reform, where architects would be at the heart of the process, instead of being marginalised.

Moss is proposing a new code of procurement to implement change, and this would include a “more intelligent way of employing architects”, making sure tenders are not just scored and awarded on fees, with fee bids scored on proximity to the average, rather than the lowest, to prohibit the ‘buying’ of work. Reducing the cost and time of bidding and assessment, and the setting up of an RIBA procurement framework for chartered practices are also proposed.

Possible alternatives to design and build contracts such as traditional or incentivised construction management contracts, with a contractor’s profit linked to performance bonuses, are also suggested.

“I believe the profession is at a critical juncture and requires bold action,” said Moss. “This is the tipping point. We need to act now, or our profession may be marginalised forever.”

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