We Can Build Better
We Can Build Better is an independent voluntary group of architects, engineers and other construction professionals campaigning for positive changes to how we build in Ireland, focusing on the quality of the publicly-funded buildings and places we are making today.
We are trying to highlight some issues with how our state procures its buildings. We think that the state is missing key opportunities to raise the quality of life for our citizens.
Our ongoing aim is to create debate and discussion about how we build publicly-funded buildings in Ireland, with a view to influencing procedural and legislative changes that lead to better places for us all to live, work and relax.
What Are the Issues?
Since our country exited the downturn there has been a substantial increase in the amount the state is spending on the construction and refurbishment of buildings.
Somewhat counterintuitively this vastly increased workload is being awarded to an ever decreasing number of architecture companies.
This is because the state procurement system is unwieldy and complex, with an assessment system which is opaque and inconsistent.
We Think the Problem
is Public Procurement.
So How Do We Fix This?
Public procurement currently favours large companies which tend to be based in large population centres. As a result, the social value of public procurement isn’t distributed to the widest territory.
What Needs to Change
Acknowledge the wider social value of employing local SME companies.
Acknowledge the environmental benefits of employing companies local to the project.
Encourage collaboration and joint venture submissions between large and SME companies.
Large companies who collaborate with SME’s score higher in assessment.
Public procurement encourages low cost tendering without adequate mechanisms for comparing the quality of the service being offered between tenders. A low cost for a poor service does not give value for money.
What Needs to Change
Acknowledge that quality of service is intrinsic to value for money.
Acknowledge that an adequate service can’t be provided below a specific base cost.
Set a fee range for a service within which tenderers bid and then assess tenders primarily on quality.
Tenderers who bid towards the top of the range must demonstrate what extra they bring to the service.
Primary consideration is given to companies who have recently carried out work which is similar in scale and type to the work being tendered for. This produces a closed loop which excludes new entrants to the market. It is anti-competitive and can lead to a monopoly.
What Needs to Change
Acknowledge that the successful delivery of a future service is not dependent on only having carried out work which is similar in scale and type before.
Acknowledge that aspects of projects can be similar between different building and project types.
Broaden the experience criteria to include qualitative assessment of previous work, even if it is not similar in scale or type.
Include expert professionals on panels to assess the scope and nature of previous work.
Current suitability assessment criteria equate turnover with capacity, assuming that the greater the size of the company, the greater the scale of individual projects it can undertake. Most large or very large projects within a design company will be carried out by a team of max. 4-6 people.
What Needs to Change
Acknowledge that turnover is not always an appropriate method of assessing capacity and that minimum turnover thresholds exclude SME’s.
Consider a maximum turnover threshold for specific projects to encourage SME participation in public procurement.
It is commonplace for tenders for professional services to be assessed by panels which have no expert knowledge in the sector. Because of this, quality assessment tends to be about how the service is delivered, rather than the service itself or product the service will produce.
What Needs to Change
Acknowledge that tenders should not be assessed by panels which have no knowledge of the service or product they are procuring.
Include construction professionals in every assessment team for tenders for construction professional services.
Current procurement practice views companies who can present a long-standing variety of previous work as less risky. But procuring a service is about procuring people. A company’s portfolio is not necessarily a reflection of the experience of current or future staff members.
What Needs to Change
Acknowledge that due to a misapprehension of risk, talent in small or young companies is being overlooked.
Acknowledge that SME’s provide direct access to experience and talent which is not necessarily reflected in the age or size of the company.
Attach a greater assessment weight to people’s CV’s and experience, especially SME owner/directors who provide continuous expertise to a project.
The main purpose of public procurement is to provide transparency. In reality it is overly complex and made up of opaque processes and terminology. Tender briefing documents are often vague, open to interpretation, and difficult to price.
What Needs to Change
Acknowledge that the overly complex nature of public procurement excludes SME’s.
Acknowledge that poor quality tender documentation leads to wasted resources and poor tender returns.
Encourage greater SME participation by simplifying public procurement.
Ensure briefing documents are clear, concise and contain a quantifiable schedule of requirements.
Create a centralised tender ‘passport’ which avoids duplication of information between tenders e.g. ESPD (European Single Procurement Document).
The EU is Not the Problem ↑
A common perception is that the overly bureaucratic nature of Irish public procurement is due to compliance with EU Directives. Other EU countries do not implement the same level of complexity and bureaucracy in their public procurement systems e.g. Denmark, Belgium, UK (former EU member).
What Needs to Change
Acknowledge that the Irish procurement system is a national interpretation of the EU Directives.
Acknowledge that the Irish interpretation deviates from the actual requirements of EU regulations.
Learn from best procurement practice in other EU countries, which includes design competitions, centralised procurement documents, lack of frameworks or bundling of work into lots, and identification of active measures for engaging SME’s.
Join the Campaign
Please read our mandate and sign up to our mailing list.
Follow us on social media.
Use #wecanbuildbetter in social media posts.
Engage in any debate or discussion relating to the procurement system.
Speak to members of the RIAI Council or to your local City and County Councils about issues important to our campaign.
Follow and share our news.
Sign your support below!
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