BSF14: Memorandum submitted by Royal Institute of British Architects

(RIBA)

 

Summary

 

The RIBA is concerned that the design standard of many schools is not high enough;

We believe that the current delivery framework for the BSF programme has a number of deficiencies and pressure points that are resulting in insufficient design quality, inefficient delivery in terms of speed and cost, and too little support for inexperienced local authority clients. PfS has not done enough to tackle these problems, despite the small but positive recommendations coming at the end of the recent review;

The RIBA urges that Partnership for Schools ensures much greater design preparation by the schools as a client before going to market, and further resourcing needs to be available to them much earlier in the process in the shape of dedicated professional advice;

We estimate that schools can save upwards of 1 million and reduce the time for procurement by 6 months if they invest more money upfront in the process for design preparation;

We believe a pilot study should be run to prove that investing earlier in the process brings much greater benefits, in terms of increasing design quality while significantly reducing time and financial cost to bidders and client.

 

 

 

Introduction

 

The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) is one of the most influential architectural institutions in the world, and has been promoting architecture and architects since being awarded its Royal Charter in 1837. The 40,000-strong professional institute is committed to serving the public interest through good design. It also represents 85% of registered architects in the UK through its regional structure as well as a significant number of international members. Our mission statement is simple - to advance architecture by demonstrating benefit to society and promoting excellence in the profession.

 

Background

 

The Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme provides an opportunity for the transformation of a major pillar of our society in a manner unparalleled since the post-war reconstruction and the foundation of the welfare state. Both the breadth of vision of the construction programme and the emphasis on educational transformation as the driver are to be entirely welcomed, and the RIBA and its members acknowledge the possibilities the programme provides for innovative design solutions, showcasing the highest standards of educational design.

 

The RIBA and CABE (the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment) have been increasingly active in disseminating good practice and improving the skills base of the architectural profession to meet this unparalleled challenge. We are now seeing the fruits of this in some of the finished schools emerging from the pathfinder projects and those that have reached financial close in waves 1 -3; a few of these are of an extremely high standard. However, as we approach the higher volume phases of the programme, it is worrying to note that the initial CABE Schools Review Panels raised significant concerns about the design standard of many schools, and there remains no wide-spread evidence of truly innovative solutions coming forward.

 

The possible causes of this shortfall in design standards include:

a lack of architects skilled and experienced in this specialist area of school design

the demands placed on the involved professions' resources by a bidding system that ties up three teams for several months and then discards two thirds of the design work produced

the relatively low scoring given to design in bid evaluation and the lack of relevant skills and experience on the part of many evaluation teams

the tendency of some bidders to limit the amount of detailed specification and detail available at bid stage in order to provide greater scope for 'value engineering' after Financial Close

the ability of bidders to substitute other design teams, possibly of lower quality, for the non-sample schools after Financial Close

the reluctance of many good quality architectural practices to commit time and resources to bids that may be abortive, or to assemble or disband design teams at short notice; this is especially relevant in a buoyant market where practices are already experiencing problems in finding staff.

 

Partnerships for Schools (PfS) have undertaken a significant review of the procurement process, with a series of recommendations being recently announced. However the changes put forward, while setting the right direction of travel, have been underwhelming in their scope, and together demonstrate an acute paucity of vision.

 

Rate of progress that is being made in bringing projects to the construction stage

The rate of delivery through the BSF programme has been disappointing. We believe that this is in part due to problems associated with a laborious, inefficient procurement model, and an unwillingness to encourage local authorities to innovate on the preferred model of delivery to suit their own needs and aspirations.

 

 

How the experience of those in the early waves is being disseminated

 

We believe that the current delivery framework for the BSF programme has a number of deficiencies and pressure points that are resulting in insufficient design quality, inefficient delivery in terms of speed and cost, and too little support for inexperienced local authority clients. PfS has not done enough to tackle these problems, despite the small but positive recommendations coming at the end of the recent review. Much more needs to be done to capture the issues affecting BSF, to seek to learn from innovative and creative solutions and to return this experience into further waves through continuous improvement of the procurement guidance to local authorities and their delivery partners.

 

There are already schemes in the pipeline that are close to Smart PFI, and other procurement routes that do not strictly adhere to the 'traditional' BSF model. We can learn from these. They also demonstrate that schemes can come forward that are a departure from the standard procurement model. If a willing local authority could be found, a pilot scheme would not be impossible.

How the visioning process is being developed;

There remain a number of fundamental issues that require further attention. The PfS recommendations stopped well short of what was possible from the review.

 

There has been no update on the required level of preparations by local authorities, nor how the required improvements to the support available to them during the crucial early stages is to be funded.  No amount of tinkering with the bid process can overcome a lack of preparation by the public sector client. Partnerships for Schools has committed to drawing up guidance stating the level of preparation in the pre-bid stage required of local procuring authorities

 

We believe that PfS have not yet taken the necessary steps to ensure that every client is properly prepared, and have failed to ensure much closer working between the architect and educational client in the vital early design stages.  

 

Therefore we are calling on PfS to:

 

Ensure much greater design preparation by the client before going to market, and further resourcing available to them much earlier in the process in the shape of dedicated professional advice;

Bring forward a pilot study to prove the alternative proposal brings much greater benefits, in terms of increasing design quality while significantly reducing time and financial cost to bidders and client.

 

The RIBA will seek to work with PfS to ensure that the guidance that they give to local authorities about preparing for the procurement process goes far enough, and that it ensures that local authorities do adequate design preparation, and that they are properly resourced and professionally advised at the very outset.

 

The RIBA believes that it is fundamental that before engaging with the bidding teams the local authority work out what they want.  We believe that this requires the preparation of a concept design to test, refine and finalise the brief. However, a narrow interpretation of procurement doctrine is preventing the next logical step from being taken, which is to integrate early design work by the client into the bid process. 

 

This would:

avoid duplicate conceptual design work by the bidders

place greater emphasis on partnering as the key differentiator in the early selection process

allow bidders to concentrate on the later, more detailed design work, bringing their own innovation to bear and ensure best value is achieved

guarantee a significant reduction in bid costs

How the procurement process is working;

During the review's investigation, a number of alternative scenarios, tested and proven in other sectors of public and commercial procurement, were knocked-back in favour of a much less ambitions series of proposals. The alternative solutions placed far greater emphasis on design preparation by the client before going to market, and on ensuring that the client is properly advised by a professional, experienced team from the very outset. These solutions were derived from innovations emerging in more advanced forms of PPP, from the Treasury's latest developments in its own PFI guidance, and from everyday best practice among commercial developers.

 

Instead of embracing innovation and best practice, what we have ended up with is:

 

A reduction in the overall procurement time, down to 75 weeks from the current 82-week model - this compares to a possible saving of 6 months under alternative procurement systems

Two lead bidders are selected earlier in the process, after 29 weeks rather than 44 weeks in the current process - yet there is still a huge burden of consultation placed on the client through costly duplication early in the system. A better solution would be further design development, perhaps in the form of a concept design carried out by the client working directly with a dedicated professional design team (see above for more details), before going to the market to find a delivery partner

 

Progress on reducing schools' carbon emissions and on achieving zero carbon new school buildings;

Too little progress has been made in delivering low carbon schools. Whilst some local authorities have made significant steps in increasing the focus on delivering sustainability and reducing carbon emissions associated with the Schools Estate through the BSF programme, overall the results in achieving low carbon schools has thusfar been disappointing.

 

We believe that the BSF programme needs to place a much greater focus on the delivery of low carbon schools. The requirement to meet current building regulations standards is insufficient for buildings that will have an operational lifespan well into the middle of this century.

 

It should be made clear that BSF funding will only be available for investment in school buildings with a low carbon footprint throughout their life cycle. This is a significant opportunity to transform the school estate and the manner that the market views low carbon design and delivery, and should not continue to be missed.

July 2008