Memorandum by the London Borough of Barking
& Dagenham (CAB 31)
OF CABE SCHOOLS
PFI EXPERIENCE OF
I am writing in support of CABE (Commission
for the Built Environment). I understand that there is concern
about the necessity and continuing usefulness of the organisation
and we wish to make representation in support of their work. The
Council are grateful of the help they have given us and are convinced
of the need for their continued service of advice and enabling
that has raised the issue of building design and its appreciation
generally and specifically for PFI and Design and Build projects.
There can be little doubt that traditionally
PFI projects have suffered from poor and ill considered design.
The view generally taken of PFI in particular is that it is a
commercial transaction and the finished building is just one of
the final outcomes. In fact, from experience of procuring two
PFI contracts, the commercial issues (ie legal and financial)
more than often take the highest profile during the negotiation
process. Regardless of promises by Contractors (and the Council)
to the contrary, design and technical issues suffer because of
commercial decisions taken very late in the day.
These commercial decisions often reflect the
concerns of funders and the contractor to limit risk which in
turn limits innovation and puts up costs. At the same time, the
Local Authority's affordability problems that are not confronted
early enough in the process. It takes approximately two years
for a Local Authority to sign a PFI contract from credit approval
and Outline Business Case and only approximately three to four
months are given to the contractor to design the main output of
the Authority's Requirementsa building suitable for the
next 60 plus years, not just the 25 years of the contract.
The building user and the user experience inevitably
suffer because the commercial constraints directly affect the
design outcome. Unfortunately, the commercial aspects are very
short term and the real impact of a lack of design focus is to
reduce the potential benefits of to the very people it was intended
forin our case the local community. We believe this was
born out by recent reports from the National Audit Office.
CABE's input, as "Design Enablers"
to the PFI project for the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham
was crucial in turning this process around and focusing the attention
of both the Council and the Contractors on the final outcomethe
way in which careful and thoughtful design of the buildings can
affect and enhance the educational achievements of the students.
Our instructions from our Members was clear,
they wanted their new school to be a flagship for regeneration
in the local area and in the Borough as a whole. The difficulty
for us was how to achieve this. CABE gave us a process and the
help to carry process through. Following the advice of our enabler
and with his assistance we:
appointed an Architectural Consultant
to help us to develop the brief and an "exemplar scheme"
that was one real and tested answer to the brief;
appointed Quantity Surveyors to cost
the exemplar scheme and test it against the Councils affordability;
appointed engineers to develop environmental
and structural strategies; and
developed a relevant Output Specification
tested against a clear and known outcome.
This allowed us to give the contractors designers
a full brief that was achievable and affordable and gave them
time to consider our requirements and offer real innovation. The
final design, whilst based on the principles developed with the
exemplar, was very different from the exemplar. The success of
this process was realised when we had agreed the building design
and costings for our PFI Contract three months before completing
the commercial negotiations. We do not believe we would have got
to this point without the early input and continuing assistance
of CABE or a body like them.
The exemplar process has been driven by CABE
to raise client expectations and contractors awareness to the
needs of producing well designed and functional buildings. The
response from contractors to this process was goodone even
calling it "grown up" procurement. The CABE initiated
exemplar platform has meant that design development meetings with
each of the designers have been informed and positive, producing
an intelligent client and end user who has been able to be the
main focus of our briefing/discussion sessions. The purpose was
to produce a benchmark for design, innovation and cost competitiveness
and in our case this was certainly achieved.
This is only one example of the work being carried
out by CABE, but I have outlined it in some detail to explain
why it was so essential for us, as a Local Authority, to ensure
that we procured the right school and community facilities so
needed by the people of Barking.
Our experience with PFI is that affordability
and tight timescales generally condemn the design function to
a low priority. Having an independent and impartial body, such
as CABE, whose job is to remind us of the real focus of designto
produce functional and aesthetically considered buildings suitable
for their intended purposeis a major need and we would
strongly recommend they be allowed and funded to carry on with
the work of helping public bodies such as ours to achieve these
I apologise that this letter is outside of your
timescale, I was only informed of the need during the last week
and was not aware of the deadline. I ask that it be accepted in
some form as evidence that the work of CABE has been essential,
at least for this Council and will continue to be worthwhile for
the future if allowed.