Free-pitches and aborted tenders are a tax on designers

A couple of weeks ago (Letters, DW 22 October), I warned of the potential £1m cost to the design community of most of of the nation’s design consultancies trying (and failing) to get on the new Central Office of Information rosters (News, DW 24 September).

I also gave an example of a public sector tender showing how rostered consultancies were asked to do an unpaid creative pitch where the total value of the pitch costs exceeded the value of the project itself – 12 groups spent a total of £60 000 on a brief worth £50 000.

The letters from others last week (DW 29 October) about Birmingham City Council’s call for free-pitches for the Library of Birmingham identity (News, DW 15 October) picked up on this theme: dozens of consultancies would collectively spend far more on the free-pitch than the £30 000 contract was worth.

This is going on all the time. European Union legislation to promote ‘fairness’, combined with a lack of understanding by public sector officials about the huge cost of free-pitching is resulting in a massive hidden tax. Collectively, competing businesses spend far, far more than the winner receives, and so there is a huge net outflow of funds from hard-pressed design businesses. The law of unintended consequences rears its ugly head again.

And I hardly dare mention aborted tenders. Only last week the University of Reading abandoned its design tender two days before the closing date, when doubtless dozens (or even hundreds) of design consultancies had already invested thousands of pounds on the exercise (News, DW 29 October).

Luckily for us, on that tender, I began to lose the will to live at section 7.12 (Health & Safety Enforcement) and abandoned the pre-qualification questionnaire.
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