Regular Scotregen readers will recall that SURF has maintained an active interest in the Scottish Government’s Hub initiative since the balmy summer of 2006 (see issues 34 and 45 of Scotregen). The Scottish Futures Trust now carries responsibility for its delivery. Hub supporters argue that it will offer better value for scarce public resources in the current financial climate. Critics voice concern about the impact of massive scaling-up of regeneration procurement processes on local firms and community diversity.
Will a Hub solve the procurement issue?
Construction procurement sounds like the driest of subjects. It comes alive when it goes wrong: fills newspapers and courtrooms, damages jobs and local money. Scotland is world class at getting it wrong, with the humiliation of the Parliament’s procurement in danger of being surpassed by that of the Edinburgh Trams.
High-profile failures give people the impression that construction is, inevitably, a financial and procedural disaster. But freed from government dogma and European legislation the private sector often does it well. The success of any project is based on the care taken to understand its purpose, design and detail it well properly manage its risk. The best procurement is individually tailored, adaptable and flexible. Yet successive British governments have bundled the procurement of public buildings away from such responsibility measures and into the hands of mega corporations.
In Scotland we had the chance to do things better, and the incoming SNP administration critisised such huge and wasteful public-private initiatives. The Scottish construction industry is, therefore, looking askance at the Government’s plans for the unfolding “Hub” initiative, which will establish five huge corporates, each with ten or 20 – year monopolies over public building.
The Scottish Futures Trust (SFT) which runs The Hub, divided the country into five super-regions. Of the two contracts awarded so far, one has gone to the Miller Group. But the south-east super-region contract – for Edinburgh, Lothians, Fife and Borders – has gone to a consortium headquartered in England. The SFT emphasises that there will be work further down the “supply chain” for local builder, architects and engineers. But does this still not represent a loss of leadership, and money, down south?
My second concern is the relegation of the architecture of a building to an item in a contractor’s supply chain. It seems to me, when I look at the quality of most of today’s architecture, that it suffers from a lack of care and attention. Do we really want to drive down costs here, even further?
My final issues are with the concept of a monopoly. It’s not possible to establish the lower limit for the Hub’s projects – £750,000 has been mentioned, as has £5 million. But the skills needed to deliver a newbuild city hospital are very different from those to convert an old building in a rural town. Huge contractors are simply not cost effective for diverse small work.
And where did we get the idea that monopolies were cost effective, or could deliver consistent quality? The Hub’s quality check processes are no match for the carrot-and-stick approach: that we have to deliver, today, in order to work tomorrow.
Neil Grice, Hub Programme Manager in the Scottish Futures Trust, responds to some of the points in Malcolm Fraser’s article.
The Hub has been ten years in strategic development by the Scottish Government, with its business case signed off in early 2007. The Scottish Government invited SFT to lead and manage the programme on its behalf in 2009.
Far from awarding “super-region contracts” down south, these contracts have been awarded to consortia that include Galliford Try, which operates as Morrison Construction in Scotland employing 650 local people and Davis Langdon, which has had a presence in Scotland for 55 yeas and employs 100 local staff.
Local builders, architects, tradespeople and SME’s are all encouraged to join the Hub supply chains in all the Hub company territories. The reality is that these supply chains, which in the north of Scotland already consist of more the 100 local suppliers, will be used to deliver better community public services across Scotland, while ensuring best value for the taxpayer.
Malcolm Fraser also praises work in the private sector built “freed from European legislation”. SFT, in common with all public sector bodies, must apply the law and work within the European legislation. This is not a choice.
Like all other architects, Mr Fraser can apply to join the supply chain and I encourage him to do so. He could work with SFT to help us add to the award-winning buildings that have already been procured this way.