Letter to London Borough of Waltham Forest

Members of the London Practice Forum are obliged to abide by our Principles and Ethical Charter. One of the requirements of our charter is that signatories do not to apply for public tenders which prioritise price over quality.

A recent tender opportunity issued through Waltham Forest’s Dynamic Purchasing System (DPS) not only scores the cost component at 60% (relegating quality to just 40%) but also requires practices to accept that 40% of their fee will be held back pending resolution to grant planning approval.

This is discriminatory against smaller firms who will be unable to cashflow such a significant proportion of the fee, as well as placing the conclusion of the services entirely outside the architect’s control.

The London Practice Forum has written to LBWF expressing its concerns at the terms of this procedure, requesting that these be amended to create a fairer tender process.

Unfortunately, in its response to our letter the council has roundly rejected this recommendation. In the interests of widening the debate about how public procurement procedures of this nature are conducted – and the hope that the Council will adopt more progressive procedures for future oppportunities – we are publishing a copy of our letter below.

5th May 2021

To whom it may concern

London Borough of Waltham Forest – Dynamic Purchasing System – Joint Architects / Principal Designer and Sustainability Consultants Design Team for Vicarage Road, Leyton and Osborne Grove, Walthamstow

The London Practice Forum (LPF) comprises 21 of London’s leading architectural practices, many of which are involved in public projects, including schemes for Waltham Forest Council. The LPF recognises the importance of good design on the health, wellbeing, social and economic sustainability of London’s communities, and the deleterious effect that poor design can have on them.

We are writing to express our profound concern about Waltham Forest’s Dynamic Purchasing System (DPS) for architectural services. There are several aspects of this procurement which we consider to be directly opposed to best practice, and in our opinion undermine the progressive principles we believe that the council represents.

The first concern relates to the weighting applied to price and quality scoring. As it stands, the scoring methodology applies 60% of the mark to price, with the remaining 40% to quality. Experience has shown that this is effectively a “lowest price wins” arrangement, as even a high-scoring quality submission is rarely sufficient to overturn a low fee bid. With as many as 80 potential bidders on the DPS, the chances of a quality-led submission securing the commission is minimal.

There is an expectation that architects should assist their public clients to combat the climate crisis, deliver social value, address a lack of diversity within the profession, tackle housing inequality and help improve the design, construction quality and longevity of their building stock. Yet, pursuing a procurement procedure which rewards low fee bids prevents any of these objectives being realised. Waltham Forest has recently declared a climate crisis, yet the steps it is taking in relation to the procurement of its buildings will directly undermine this by perpetuating the status quo. It is simply not possible to reconcile a 60% fee weighting with the need to deliver these wider objectives.

Our second concern is regarding the proposed structure for payment of fees. According to recent tender queries posted via the portal, the Council intends to withhold 40% of the service fee until planning permission is granted. This places an enormous financial burden on practices, requiring them to cashflow a significant proportion of the project, whilst placing the payment deadline entirely outside of their control. Architects have no influence over the decision-making process, and planning approvals – and outcomes – can be significantly delayed for any number of reasons. It is simply not reasonable to ask firms to delay invoicing on this basis when the payment of salaries, sub-contractors and premises costs relies on regular and predictable income. This is not fair on your suppliers and discriminates unfairly against smaller businesses who are unable to accommodate potential delays in payment following timely completion of their services, and is directly opposed to your social value obligations. We would also question whether this is in line with the prompt payment policies set out by the Cabinet Office.

We therefore urge you to reconsider this tender and to restart the process with more favourable terms which will help meet the social, environmental, and economic objectives that we all share. In its current form, members of the London Practice Forum will be unable to participate in this opportunity, and we believe many other practices who share our values will also decline.

Yours faithfully

London Practice Forum