Disunited we stand in our need to change policy

The CSD’s moves to change Government procurement policy are to be commended, as indeed are the Design Council’s and Design Business Association’s. But why aren’t they working in accord towards this common aim, asks Beverley Cohen

The Government has no overall procurement policy for design. We know this. So does Chartered Society of Designers president Nick Jenkins (pictured), who is doing something about it (see News, page 4). And so does the Design Council, which is also doing something about it (DW 24 May).

To add to the Design Council and CSD initiatives, the Design Business Association is in the final stage of compiling a questionnaire to discover from its members what the Government’s design buying processes are and how they can be improved.

The DBA questionnaire, compiled independently of the CSD, goes out next week and covers all aspects of commissioning and managing design – pitch lists, budgets, management skills and feedback.

But while it is laudable that all three organisations are targeting an ailing aspect of design with a view to putting best practice on the Government’s agenda, the end result is heading towards duplication. The “one voice” requested by Deputy Prime Minister Michael Heseltine when he was President of the Board of Trade – “the industry needs unity, we don’t want lots of little voices all saying the same thing,” he has been reported as saying – is clearly not forthcoming at the moment.

DBA chief executive Ian Rowland-Hill says he is happy to submit a joint report to Government if the CSD canvasses its members and work with the Design Council. And Jenkins doesn’t see the research programme he is commissioning from CSD funds as overlapping with what the council is trying to do. He says it is complementary, and the CSD and Design Council will be working together – “though I don’t know how as yet”. And, he adds: “We’ll certainly consult them before we make the representation to the Government.” This is planned for six months’ time, when the CSD receives results of its research.

The Design Council supports the CSD’s plans, although a spokeswoman for the council confesses it has “no full details as yet about what the CSD is doing – but we’ll support it in whatever it is”.

She adds that “if there’s a role for us to play with the CSD, we’ll play it”. But the fact remains that the CSD has got some way along the path of commissioning a heavyweight project with major implications for the industry without the council being closely involved at the initial stages.

And while this mutual support system is encouraging, neither organisation seems sure whether or not work will be duplicated.

Jenkins was certainly involved in the Design Council’s May conference, Better Government By Design: Effective Purchasing in the Public Sector, where he chaired a session. This conference was run jointly with the Social Market Foundation, and was a result of the SMF’s research into how government departments treat design.

Argument focused on how to improve the system with the aim to change it at policy level. The Design Council said it would lobby the Treasury’s Central Unit of Procurement to introduce a design element to the Certificate of Competence, the qualification needed by Government procurement staff. We don’t know when the lobby will take place. But whenever it does, will it lessen the impact of the CSD’s deputation and confuse the issue if both organisations present study guidelines on the same issue to the same people?

Of course, the CSD’s plans, approach and style are different to those of the council. The society will arrive on the doorsteps of Government departments with a document resulting from the independent research of a freelance academic who will have interviewed both design consultants and Government officials who commission. Jenkins reveals that he is already “talking to two or three academic institutions to co-undertake research”.

The Design Council meanwhile expects a report documenting the results of its May conference in mid-September. “I can’t say if this might result in a representation to the Government for the council,” says a spokeswoman.

Design Business Association chairman Jonathan Sands agrees duplication is counter-productive. “The idea is a good one, but we don’t want duplicated effort just for the sake of it. Time is precious and we shouldn’t be duplicating work – there are too many other issues which are equally important to target,” he explains.

Jim Northover, vice-chairman at Lloyd Northover Citigate, has already received a draft copy of the DBA’s questionnaire, and says that the initiative “is probably the best thing we could be doing”.

Given that free-pitching appears to be pretty standard practice by Government these days, the findings from all three organisations will be interesting. But soundings from industry practitioners suggest that the most effective way of presenting those findings to Government would be through a single voice for the profession.

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