There’s little point in training civil servants

Letters to the Editor should be sent to Design Week, 50 Poland Street, London W1V 4AX. Fax: 0171-734 1770;e-mail

I have just read the article Design Council acts on Government buying (DW 7 February), which talks about encouraging better design procurement policies by the public sector. The plan acknowledges a need for design champions in organisations and you say that it is very important that we have people in Government and key organisations to help us.

In the last 15 years virtually all design groups and departments of architecture in county councils and health authorities have been externalised. On the advice of a report submitted to this county council by accountant Price Waterhouse, the interior design group in the land and property department has also been externalised.

Next month Durham County Council will become smaller and a new unitary authority will arise at Darlington, taking some of Durham County Council’s staff. Cleveland County Council was recently extinguished and four new smaller unitary authorities put in its place. None of these have in-house design groups. A similar arrangement exists in all health trusts, where any design thinking is done by purchasing officers, or not at all. This pattern of breaking up the larger public bodies has occurred right across the country.

There was a time when design seemed to be important, but that era has disappeared in the public sector. Virtually every public body, however big or small, now relies upon unqualified people to make design decisions for which they have no training, and, sadly, most of these people think they have the ability to make such decisions. Unfortunately, most are in control of the spending which gives them the power to do things their way. You talk about implementing a training programme to teach civil servants how to become design champions. Why? Surely it would be more cost-effective and professionally correct to take on board qualified designers to influence the purchasing of goods and manage any refurbishment programmes? It seems illogical to spend taxpayers’ money to try to train people who are not designers and never will be.

Because many people think they can do the job of a designer, we now have mediocre interiors appearing in most public buildings, schools and hospitals, where refurbishment programmes are now being designed and managed by others or by committees, which is how it used to be 25 years ago! So that’s progress is it?

B G Browning

Chief interior designer

Land and property department

Durham County Council

Durham DH1 5UH

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