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Competitive contracting

17 June 2016

Our lighting designer has recom­mended a particular company for fitting our new system. Should each subcontractor on a project be chosen competitively? Does it matter if they are an associate of the designer?

IT IS a legal requirement that con­tracts or services of more than £10,000 are open to competitive tendering. On many large church-projects, that means that even the architect and design team specialists should be selected through com­petitive tendering.

The general principle of equality of opportunity is the positive side of the lead-up to developing this law. It prevents “old-boy networks” from cornering the market for their own, thus excluding newcomers from having a chance of getting the work.

On the more negative side, the des­igner might be “in cahoots” with a company that they choose them­selves and may gain direct or in­­direct benefit from giving the work this way.

But you can expect integrity from most professionals who would not dream of playing such games and will happily engage in the tendering process. Similarly, the church should not engage in commercially unfair practice by manipulating the contract to go to a “friend” of the church or a church member.

On projects that are estimated at more than, say, £20,000, it is incred­ibly helpful to have a quantity sur­veyor involved in the process to help you ensure that not only do you have a good solution to your building challenge, but that it is not an over-pricey solution. A quantity surveyor who is experienced in church projects will be able to answer the question: Is there a cheaper way to do this? The answer is important early in the develop­ment of the project, before you go out to tender. For example, should your tender documents assume the use of a temporary roof during external works; or what method will be used for underpinning? It is too late to deal with this effectively after the tenders are returned.

Meet your architect/designer and develop a list of as many as six potential contractors for the work. The architect will set up a process for sending the drawings and specification for the work to those who wish to submit tenders. The church will then receive a detailed report on the content of the tenders, saying which is the best and why. The PCC is then in a position to ratify the best tender.

Do note that the process em­­phasises that the quality of the work, and not just the price, is critical; no one wants a cheap and nasty piece of work in their church.

On big building projects, it is common for the main contractor to engage subcontractors for special­ised pieces of work. Because the main contractors are tendering com­petitively, it is in their interest, while preparing their tender, to select such contractors compet­itively, too; this helps them get the best price. This may apply for electrical or drainage work, stone­work and other specialisms.

There may be some items under this category for which the church and architect wish to specify the subcontractor to the main builder: say, for furniture, font, chairs, and other items. At times, the church, with the architect, may find it beneficial to organise such work outside the builder’s contract if it does not overlap or impinge on the builder’s work. The church may have spent many hours selecting the right chairs, and will have them de­­livered after the builder leaves the site; it saves the church adding the builder’s overhead and profit to the cost of the chairs. Your architect will advise when specially selected fittings, such as stone carvings, will require liaison with the builder, and will organise that cooperation for you.


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