In wake of continued debate at the recent trades union and party political conferences, Private Finance Initiative(PFI) is once more filling newspaper columns. Whatever our personal views and the political machinations of the arguments for and against the use of PFI as a means of procuring public facilities, it is clearly here to stay for the foreseeable future.
Along with the general acceptance of this reality and the perception that PFI is the panacea of ‘all things to all men’ there is, however,an increasing undercurrent of dissatisfaction, within the industry and the media, that PFI is producing blandness and a sterility of design; as opposed to aesthetically worthwhile public buildings.
Much has also been stated in the press and many contractors would no doubt agree, via anecdotal evidence, that PFI is a lengthy and expensive process to indulge in as part of the core contracting business. It is arguable, however that it is the sheer waste of resource in interpreting the clients brief that is contributing so massively to the time and cost to all parties and is ultimately leading to sterile designs.
It is not so much that the client’s brief is too detailed but that it is invariably not detailed enough or conflicts with the client’s specific requirements and the standard specifications and design notes referred to as a minimum. Consortia design teams are spending inordinate amounts of time trying to interpret exactly what is required from that brief and also attempting to provide a project that will reflect the flair and input of the team in the appearance and functionality of the finished building.
With the introduction of CABE (Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment) together with the Prince’s Trust and design evaluation tools for the clients, the issue of good design is becoming a more dominant aspect of evaluation rather than pure cost.
Would it be better for the client to be more pro-active at an earlier stage? It is certainly true that managing out risks and provision of more certainty would aid and reduce tender costs. Contractors have known this for years even under ‘traditional’ methods of procurement, so why this cannot be introduced into the PFI model is a moot point.