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New London Concert Hall: a case study in confused public procurement

MRC analysis reveals a flawed and ambiguous selection process

A landmark project for London and the UK – circa £250m in value – yet the City of London’s Centre for Music project is a case study in confused public procurement: a competitive selection process which is onerous in its demands, racked with ambiguities, and predicated on a six-sides-of-A4 Brief. Here’s a quick guide to the relevant highlights for architects.

The money fairness – what will the winning architect receive for how much work?

After hours spent by the Malcolm Reading Consultants (MRC) team in deciphering the Selection Questionnaire (SQ), this appears to boil down to a maximum £350,000 contract initially, for the Architect/Lead Designer, Fire Engineer, Access Consultant, Façade Consultant and CDM services for 15 months’ work to December 2018 (equivalent of RIBA stage 2) on a hugely complex project – to support the client in seeking funding – which is not guaranteed.

This works out at just shy of 3% (expenses included) of the advertised projected £12m fee for full service (nine and a half years) – offering a fraction of the fair proportion for work done at a concept design stage.

Additionally, an honorarium of £10,000 for the shortlisted teams seems disproportionate for a project of this size and significance. Compare that with £4,000 for the RIBA’s recent Wall of Answered Prayer crowd-funded competition or £10,000 for the £25m Ross Pavilion and Gardens project in Edinburgh.

The creativity time-bomb – what copyright does the architect sign away?

The procurement documents indicate draconian intellectual property conditions, especially given the fee indicated above: the client takes ownership of the entire concept design. As the proposed contract (non-negotiable under the Restricted Procedure under OJEU) states:

(a) Option A applies, all of the Documents will be the property of the City in all respects and the Consultant hereby assigns full copyright and future copyright and all other intellectual property rights in the Documents to the City;[1]

The financial riddle – what exactly is the turnover requirement?

The turnover and financial and economic standing requirement is confusing and onerous. There is a three-part appraisal process, which includes satisfying minimum standards with regards to the turnover requirement, standard accounting ratios and Altman’s Z Score, as well as a detailed assessment of company accounts.

The Minimum Turnover Requirement is calculated ‘as the annual average of the last two reported financial years, divided by the estimated annual contract value’,[2] whereby the applicant must achieve an unrounded result of 2.0 or greater. However, it is not stated within the procurement documents what the estimated annual contract value is, and it is therefore unclear how this figure could be calculated (or how high the threshold is).

OJEU ambiguities – the process follows Restricted Procedure rules, or does it?

The competition documents state that the selection process follows the OJEU Restricted Procedure for public procurement. MRC noticed that examples of relevant projects are requested from within the past 10 years. However, we understand that public procurement regulations set a limit on the age of the examples which can be used to demonstrate technical and professional ability of five years for services and three years for works – so is this intended, or just an error?

The SQ asks the following question: Based on your understanding of the project brief, describe how your prior experience will allow you to develop designs which meet and exceed the expectations of all stakeholders in this project. Give clear examples of how you have done this in previous projects.[3]

This appears to ask for an understanding of the Project Brief that is forward-looking. But is this allowable under OJEU’s Restricted Procedure? The public procurement regulations state clearly that assessment must be backward-looking in the first stage.

The SQ states that: The Contracting authority may re-assess reliability based on past performance at key stages in the procurement process (i.e. supplier selection, tender evaluation, contract award stage etc.).[4] Our understanding is that the Public Procurement Regulations do not permit reassessment of criteria at a subsequent stage that has already been assessed.

Meanwhile the Tender Submission Guidelines state that 21% of the overall score is assigned to post-tender presentations and interviews.[5] This could be read as implying new information may be received after the formal deadline, which does not seem to be compliant with the Restricted Procedure under OJEU.

The project omissions – why such a limited Project Brief? Where is the international coverage?

The very limited Project Brief (despite the reference to the original Feasibility Study) – six sides of A4 positioned as Appendix A to the Selection Questionnaire – hardly equates to a complex £250m project of national importance or the project’s own rhetoric in its media release. No details are given of the Centre for Music’s Trustees.

While the competitive selection process is advertised as an ‘international’ search, at the time of writing we struggled to find any mentions of the initiative in international design media published outside the UK.

Malcolm Reading said, “This is a landmark project for London, and indeed the UK, which is absolutely dependent on the creativity of architects and an understanding of design to be a success.

“This initiative could have showcased the UK as ahead of the curve internationally in understanding how to commission design, how to relate to architects. Instead it is focused on getting a bargain.”

Footnotes

[1] C4M Architect Appendix 2.1 Conditions F-Professional Services (Deed)-2015, pages 1 and 5

[2] Selection Questionnaire SQ Pack, page 26

[3] Selection Questionnaire SQ Pack, page 38

[4] Selection Questionnaire SQ Pack, page 23

[5] Tender Submissions Guidelines, page 3