Fully Designed or Equal Approved?

January 7, 2015

 

Published BREGs Blog, January 2015

 

Building Control (Amendment) Regulations (S.I. 9 of 2014) compounds the contradiction at the heart of public procurement

 

It is a commonly held misconception that the introduction of the ‘new’ forms of Public Works Contracts restricted architects in their choice of products and precluded the use of a trade names followed by; ‘or equal approved’. In fact this is quite a long way from the truth. The restriction on the use of trade names when specifying products in public procurement arises from the EU Procurement directive 2004/18/EC (transposed into Irish Law in 2006). That this happened around the same time as the introduction of the Public Works Contracts is simply coincidence. Moreover, the suite of Public Works Contracts is conceived to provide certainty to a contracting authority, and ultimately to the exchequer.

 

The EU procurement directive is conceived to ensure free and fair competition in the supply of goods and services to government agencies: and these two concepts, enshrined in a single process, frequently result in a fundamental conflict of intent. After all, what could be more uncertain than a specifier describing a specific product in a way that does not preclude, nay invites, alternatives. The certainty strived for in the Public Works Contracts, and the liberal competitive principle enshrined in the EU procurement directive are pulling in two different directions.

 

Indeed the existence of the procurement directive flies in the face of any possibility that output specifications prepared for public projects and issued to bidding contractors would be ‘fully designed’ (a term that does not appear anywhere in the Public Works Contract forms or guidance notes). Like it or not, the very act of choosing a product, and discounting others, based on a technical specification, is an act of design.

 

Bear in mind that a contractor is required to undertake this selection process during the tender process, when the job is being priced. Even afterwards, in the ad-hoc world of product submittals, post contract signing, a specifier will not assume responsibility for procurement decisions made by a contractor; a specifier will only retain responsibility for his or her initial specification – one that by (EU) legislation cannot be complete (in that the products that will actually be used cannot be identified).

 

Enter BC(A)R, SI. 9 of 2014. Who is the designer?

 

Architects and Employer Representatives do not use the word ‘approved’ when reviewing contractors’ product submissions – because under the contract the sole responsibility for ensuring the selected product conforms with the performance specification lies with the contractor – and anyway, the products are not ‘or equal approved’. But the Design Certifier is not operating under a contract. His or her responsibility arises in legislation.

 

In its attempt to carve out a simple distinction between ‘designer’ and ‘builder’, the legislation has missed this subtle contradiction in public procurement. The EU directive invites competition, alternatives & innovation in the provision of goods and services; even in the simplest examples this entails decisions – effectively design decisions. In medium to large scale projects, these decisions will run to literally hundreds of product submittals, with a direct financial incentive for the builder to get the cheapest ‘compliant’ product over the line.

 

So who decides what is compliant?

  • Must the Contractor now issue a plethora of ancillary design certificates for every procurement decision made where products are chosen by him (backed up by PII)?, or;

  • Does the Certificate of Compliance (undertaking by Builder) mean that an architect will no longer need to deal with requests for ‘approval’ of products or technical submittals?, or;

  • Does the Design Certifier assume responsibility for product selection (by the Contractor) that they are excluded from making under EU legislation?

Like in so many other aspects of SI. 9 of 2014, the jury is out.

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