Sarah Balmond’s interesting article on public sector procurement (DW 18 August) has provoked a steady stream of correspondence over recent weeks, but I feel a key point has been missed: our old friend The Law of Unintended Consequences is making its presence felt.
To promote fair competition, Government bodies are compelled to place tender notices for contracts worth more than £150 000 per annum. As the design industry has grown more aware of these opportunities, the number of respondents to the tender notices has increased, to a level where procurement officers can barely manage. To cut the number of potential applicants down (typically between 150 and 400 consultancies will apply) the Pre-Qualification Questionnaire system has been almost universally introduced. The PQQ is generally a very extensive document (taking one person one week to complete), 95 per cent of which covers things like: financial viability, health and safety, quality control, sustainable development, race relations, equal opportunities, payment of taxes and so on, leaving probably less than 5 per cent to do with design. When consultancies fail to get through the PQQ stage, it usually has very little to do with design and everything to do with the group’s ability to fill out a form without making a trivial mistake.
The consequence is the ascendance of expert form-fillers (inevitably working for large consultancies – smaller ones can’t afford the overhead) over other designers.
We are currently lobbying the Small Business Service and the Office of Government Commerce to produce a totally standardised PQQ that only has to be filled out once, so that creative, cost-effective design groups can compete with big consultancies. I urge others to do the same.
David Bartholomew, Managing director, Folio Creative Communication, by e-mail