Hubco could be disastrous (Shetland Architectural Society)

We, the Shetland Architectural Society, in an unprecedented step, have felt compelled to write to all 22 councillors to highlight the possible disastrous implications of joining hubco for the building industry in Shetland. The effects of this type of public sector procurement are already being experienced in the north of Scotland and may have serious implications for the long-term viability of the Shetland economy.

Unless our councillors make the connection between how they procure projects and supporting graduate employment in Shetland, there seems little point in spending scarce resources in providing the best education for our children if it leads to them leaving the islands for lack of opportunity.

We are writing to you in connection with the recent decision to join the Northern Territory Hub, part of hubco. This, on the face of it looks like a good thing but we think it has far reaching implications for years to come for Shetland.

As we understand it, hubco will be like a one stop shop for buildings or other infrastructure. In registering interest with hubco they will “bundle” or “batch” your project along with other similar projects from elsewhere in the Northern Territory Hub to make up a bigger, more juicy project that will be more attractive to larger firms and therefore will be cheaper. That at least is the theory. We have, however, no way of knowing as this is a new procurement system with no track record.

It is our understanding that the end result for local architects, engineers and quantity surveyors is that small firms (less than 10 staff, which make up the majority of firms in Scotland) will not be able to tender for the work. In other words we will be squeezed out by several larger firms who can compete at that level. Does it matter? We believe it does, not just for ourselves but for Shetland in general. We would like to highlight the reasons why smaller Shetland projects (under £3.5m) should not be bundled up and bought as part of a bigger hubco procurement strategy:

1. Local architects have invaluable, hard-won experience of what works in our harsh climate and what doesn’t. What roofing stays on, glazing that keeps out water and where to put a sheltered door. We know the terrain, even as basic a factor as ground conditions in terms of selecting a sensible site.

2. Local architects understand the capabilities of the local building industry (which is incidentally very capable), what is buildable without unnecessarily bringing in specialists and installers from the mainland. Local architects are on the spot and able to respond to site queries – they can properly assess the situation and make practical decisions.

3. Local architects have to stand by their reputation for their work. We’re in for the long haul, committed, keen, and we can hold our heads up against the competition from the mainland.

Architects working in both the private and public sector have an excellent track record in designing robust, functional buildings for Shetland. Examples include: Whalsay, Hamnavoe, Tingwall, Cullivoe, Urafirth, Skeld and Nesting Schools; Fernlea, Overtonlea, North Haven and Wastview care centres; Bixter, Levenwick, Walls and Mid Yell surgeries; Market Street and ICT Offices, Lerwick.

The Shetland Islands Council Corporate Plan 2010-sets out to “create a more vibrant private sector in Shetland with better career opportunities for the local population and incoming workers”. We make a significant contribution to that vibrant private sector.

We do not expect to be handed work, we expect to be able to be competitive and provide as good, or a better service as mainland professionals. At present we can compete against mainland UK firms in a fair and transparent process.

Under hubco, local firms are unlikely to get on the tender list. That is just one “implication for local stakeholders” that hasn’t been taken into account when Shetland signed up to hubco.

Furthermore, local architects, allied professional and contractors are stakeholders in this issue. This has not been taken into account by the council in signing up to the hub.

Shetland has a unique stand alone economy and we believe you cannot apply a one size fits all procurement strategy to it without far reaching, detrimental effects. The result for us is less work, the result for Shetland is likely to be more buildings designed by big firms from the central belt with limited understanding of Shetland conditions.

Iain Malcolmson
Shetland Architectural Society
Redman + Sutherland Architects,
PJP Architects LLP,
Richard Gibson Architects Ltd,
Iain Skinner Architect,
Mike Finnie Architect,
Alan Mackay, Architect.


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