Leeds Council rushes (slowly) to replace failing design team

Senior council leaders are being urged to take immediate steps to decide on a replacement for the Council’s failing in-house architectural design service.

A report being put to the Council’s Executive Board today (Wednesday) recommends that the Executive agree to replace the “unsustainable” in-house team (and its long-term design partnership with Leeds architects Jacobs) as quickly as possible with a joint venture with national property services company NPS.

Why the rush? Well, the Council’s exclusive partnership with Jacobs (known rather grandly as the Strategic Design Alliance) was wound up five days ago and the in-house team can no longer cope…

Which leaves a design hole till Autumn (see below).

Income shortfall of £450,000
In March the Executive agreed to scrap the Council’s in-house design team, Architectural Design Services (ADS), in its current form after “major issues” arose with the service it was delivering.

The ADS had become unable to offer a comprehensive service, which meant it wasn’t able to generate enough income.

“The service is unsustainable and had an actual shortfall of income for 2010/11 of approximately £450,000, with limited chances of the situation improving giving the pressing budgetary issues and a reducing capital programme. The situation is causing budget pressures,” the report said.

“Client dissatisfaction”
“Inconsistencies in service quality have led to client dissatisfaction and some delivery problems with some projects. The service can not continue as it is,” it added, without saying which projects were involved.

Under the recommended scheme the Council will transfer most of the ADS staff to the new public sector joint venture with Norfolk Property Services, who already have similar joint companies in place delivering “efficiencies and quality services” to councils in Wakefield, Hull, Barnsley and elsewhere in the UK.

A second option looked at in the report would have involved the disbanding of the in-house team, costly redundancy payments, and the ad hoc outsourcing of design services project by project. Not recommended.

Poor timing, though, that today’s meeting comes AFTER the official ending of the Council’s exclusive long-term contract with Leeds architects Jacobs.

Under that contract the in-house ADS team and Jacobs provided all the Council’s design and technical consultancy work associated with buildings and architecture – including for such prestigious contracts as the new joint home for the Northern Ballet and Phoenix Dance, the refurb of the City Varieties and the Leeds Arena project.

It’s not clear who will immediately take over the Council work – on the Arena for example – that’s been carried out up to now by Jacobs and the defunct ADS.

Tricky. Jacobs appear to be out of the picture, the in-house team hasn’t got the expertise, and it’s not expected that the contracts for the new joint venture will be ready for signing before Autumn. So that leaves a gap of a few months during which there’s work that’s going to have to be done – on the Schools Basic Needs Programme, for example, if not on the Arena. So the new joint venture may be called on to start designing before it legally exists.

Fingers will be crossed that the deal doesn’t fall through in the meantime.

It does make you wonder, though, why the Council’s left it so late to come up with replacement design services. And why Jacobs have been ditched…

With all this rush it’s just as well that the new venture with Norfolk Property Services doesn’t have to go out to tender. Apparently there’s a loophole – something called the Teckal principle – that means the Council can appoint who it likes in this situation. Phew!

Unions have been consulted and favour the joint venture option.


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