A framework for change?

The Construction Playbook triggered an independent review of public sector procurement that recommends adopting framework structures and features to deliver better, safer, faster and greener outcomes in the public sector. Hywel Davies reports

Effective contracting relies on commercial frameworks that support strategic planning, integrated teamworking and continuous improvement. They should enable delivery of safer, better, faster and greener project outcomes. Both the public and private sectors use a wide variety of frameworks, but there is a lack of clear guidance about how to structure them and what are ‘best practice’ features. As a result, they are not always successful.

The Construction Playbook, published in December 2020, prompted an independent review of these frameworks, led by Professor David Mosey. Constructing the gold standard1 delivers 24 recommendations for their adoption and use, and how they should be structured, to provide clear drivers that will deliver the policies in the Construction Playbook.

Professor Mosey’s review looks at how public sector clients can adopt procurement frameworks that are consistent with the priorities and objectives of the Playbook, and that support improved whole-life building safety, net zero carbon and social value, optimal use of digital information, and improved efficiency and innovation

This is really significant, because the public sector buys 40% of construction output. It has the greatest leverage of any client and has the potential to drive positive change in the industry. Good frameworks should reward those seeking to improve and, increasingly, discourage or exclude those who continue in poor practices and cultures. 

Two recommendations explicitly address safety. Recommendation 3 states that all public sector construction frameworks should be required to prioritise safety and net zero carbon. Framework providers, clients and suppliers should all set out how their framework strategy, procurement, contract and management will achieve improved building safety and net zero carbon targets. Recommendation 13, meanwhile, calls for earlier supplier involvement to target improved quality and safety.

Good frameworks should reward those seeking to improve and, increasingly, discourage or exclude those who continue in poor practices and cultures.

These recommendations extend the scope of those in Dame Judith Hackitt’s 2018 review, already accepted in full by government. She called for contracts for higher-risk residential buildings to expressly prioritise safety and for tenders to be required to demonstrate how their solution would deliver safe outcomes. Safety information must also be included in the ‘Golden Thread’ of information about the building.

Much has been said about the Building Safety Bill and the new regime it will bring, but it does not address procurement. The reality is that unless procurement practices and contracts change, so that safety is clearly seen as the priority, day-to-day practice will not change. Until tenders that do not convince clients that safety is a priority are not considered, the culture will not change. The culture follows the money.

With many higher-risk buildings in the public sector, it is essential that their operators address Professor Mosey’s recommendations. One of the greatest risks of not delivering the reforms called for by Dame Judith is the lowest-cost culture and ‘race to the bottom’ that afflicts so much construction. 

Government clients must stop cheering the runners in that race, egging them on to race further and faster the wrong way, in pursuit of lowest cost. Instead, it needs to be clear that public sector clients will now adopt the ‘gold standard’ and reward those who prioritise safety, zero carbon and true whole-life value. 

This will give taxpayers safer, more sustainable and healthier buildings that fully comply with all relevant regulatory requirements. It will also improve the prospects of those businesses and people who are seeking to do the right thing, follow the rules, and deliver safe, sustainable healthy buildings, but who feel hamstrung by those who appear not to. It’s time to reward the right people through better public procurement, and Constructing the gold standard sets out a pathway to do that.

About the author
Dr Hywel Davies is technical director at CIBSE


1 Constructing the gold standard: An independent review of public sector construction frameworks, produced by Professor David Mosey, Centre of Construction Law, King’s College London