For now, the website that promises to make access to Government contracts easier is only at planning stage, with the call out for tenders to design the site (see News, page 5). But once it is live, it could encourage more design groups to go for potentially lucrative public sector work.
It’s hard to quantify the exact figure, but the public sector spends millions of pounds a year on projects that fall within the creative sector, either internally or through external agencies. Yet relatively few design consultancies are prepared to brave the system, which involves fulfilling stringent requirements to get on Government lists.
The website should prove an easier route for design groups than ploughing through the drainage contracts and heavy engineering schemes promoted through the Official Journal of the European Union. It should also provide Government agencies with a stronger talent pool from which to draw. It certainly signals a change of heart within official circles to try to make things easier for small and medium-sized companies on the supplier side – the Government-run pilot scheme in the West Midlands of which the initiative was born also looked at ways of helping SMEs to put together tenders and at simplifying the documentation required.
Of course, we would all prefer design consultancies to be seen as partners rather than suppliers by all clients, including public sector commissioners. A good start might be a change in terminology within the Civil Service from ‘design procurement’, with all its connotations, to ‘design management’. But attitudes are slowly changing on the client side. It is up to the design industry to show that its practitioners merit greater trust from the public sector, and should be given wider briefs and greater responsibility.
We have to thank the Design Council and others for their sterling work over changing Government attitudes to design. There have been amazing breakthroughs, particularly in education and health, with projects up and running to improve learning environments. The council’s ideal classroom is, for example, being tested in a Liverpool school, and its first Red Paper, Health: Co-creating Services, looks at ‘redesigning’ the health service itself, rather than just hospitals, health centres and communications.
These shifts are great for service users – as good design should be – but the design industry also stands to benefit through better understanding of design and increased workload in these areas. But to achieve partnership status on public sector projects, design groups must play their part, by taking a proactive approach to the opportunities on offer.