Government-backed joint ventures show commitment

By happy coincidence this week we highlight two separate issues relating to the public sector that bode well for its investment in design. And with that investment comes not only work for the design community, but the potential to raise design-awareness among buyers in a lucrative market.

Last week Transport for London announced that it is revitalising its roster to handle some £20m of design spend. Welcome news indeed for the design community, which is also eagerly awaiting the outcome of the Design Does It joint venture between the Design Business Association and COI Communications to improve Civil Service design-buying. Things are looking good for public sector commissions.

But one public sector organisation’s way of handling design is not necessarily typical (see News Analysis, page 9). Though Transport for London has gone this route, the roster, contentious in instances such as the CBI Communications’ debacle with design officialdom a year or so ago, isn’t favoured by all. Royal Mail, for one, is cutting back on its roster.

More positive is the specific case of education and the importance being placed by the Government on the school environment as vital to learning. With £5bn earmarked for school buildings in 2005-6, that emphasis is considerable.

Claims by schools minister David Miliband (see Private View, page 14) of Labour’s commitment to design in its broadest sense are backed up by a couple of existing projects, not least its £1m funding for the next stage of The Sorrell Foundation’s Joinedupdesignforschools initiative (see News, page 7).

It is unprecedented for Design Week to give a Government minister a platform to promote his cause, but we intend to hold Miliband and his Whitehall colleagues to their promises. We can surmise that the Sorrell initiative’s success in securing backing is as much down to the influence and persistence of its founders, John and Frances Sorrell, as to Government intervention. Nor is £1m a massive sum when you consider that it covers some 100 projects over three years. But the Government’s commitment is welcome nonetheless, enabling the groups involved to build relationships within education that will benefit both them and the students, and open doors for other design players.

Adding the Sorrell project to other Department of Education and Skills-backed ventures such as the Furniture of the Future project, partnered by Remploy, a picture emerges of a consistent Government policy centring on design. When the Design Does It initiative starts to kick in we may see similar ventures across other Government departments, or just more effective design-buying.

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