Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Procurement case study: Holyrood 1997



 The Holyrood Building
 
The story of the building of the new Scottish parliament house, The Holyrood Building, is another instructive case study. In 1997 it was announced that the new parliament building was to be constructed and the cost estimate was £40 million. A design competition was held, one year later in 1998, and a construction management contract was awarded to Bovis Lend Lease at the beginning of 1999. 

The initial client was the Scottish Office, then after work started this was transferred to the Parliamentary Corporate Body, and later the Presiding Officer and an architectural advisor were added. A report in 2000 identified poor communication between the client and contractors as increasingly costly.

Contracts were based on concepts, not on a detailed finished design. The concept design also changed during construction, with floor space first increasing from 11,000 m² to 18,000 m² and ending up at 33,000 m². There were also increased anti-terror security measures including toughened glazing, which added another 10% to the final cost.

This all led to very many variations, in a six-month period between October 2002 and May 2003 there were 1,825 architect instructions which led to 4,600 instructions to trade contractors, with nearly 5000 variations in six months. Despite a design freeze that began in April, in May 2003 there were another 545 architect’s instructions. The time and cost implications are obvious. A report by the Auditor General in 2004 concluded that over 2000 design changes to the project were a major factor in the cost overrun.

During construction the lead architect died and the project director resigned. There were conflicts between the two architectural practices involved, and between them and the contractors. The Fraser Inquiry was critical of their dysfunctional relationship, poor communication and their claim, “without basis” that the building could be completed for £50 million.

By June 2001 the costs had escalated to £230 million. In 2002 the cladding contractor went into liquidation and the price increased to £300 million. By the time the building opened in September 2004 it was three years late and had cost a great deal more than the initial estimates. The eventual cost reported in 2007 was £414 million, 10 times the original estimate.

An inquiry was set up and the report was published in 2004. A major focus of the Fraser Inquiry was whether the procurement method or the client had caused the problems. A construction management contract is typically used on integrated design and construction projects, which is its strength, but is not particularly good at managing budgets. The original budget was obviously much too low, and this led to a lot of unwanted and probably unnecessary publicity about cost overruns. The main findings of the inquiry were the unrealistic nature of the initial cost estimates, use of a procurement model that passed risk wholly onto the state client, conduct of the tendering process and choosing the contractor, and security concerns that added to the cost but could have been anticipated. The conduct of civil servants was questioned.

The Fraser Inquiry identified two fundamentally flawed decisions. The first was procurement using a construction management contract instead of a Private Finance Initiative contract. Second was the insistence on a rigid program. The Scottish Office decided to use a construction management contract to speed construction, but without evaluating the financial risks of doing so, and without asking Ministers to approve it. Officials decided that rapid delivery of the new building was to be the priority, but that quality should be maintained, so cost blowouts were inevitable.

The client was obsessed with early completion and failed to understand the impact on cost and the completion date if high-quality work and a complex building were required. In attempting to achieve early completion, the management contractor produced optimistic programs, to which the architects were unwise to commit. The main causes of the slippage were delays in designing a challenging project that was to be delivered against a tight timetable.

Perhaps most damning in the inquiry’s report was the finding that senior civil servants withheld information on the problems between contractors and architects and the rising cost of the project from ministers. Ministers were not informed of concerns within the Scottish Office over the cost of the project and officials did not take the advice of the cost consultants, a serious failure of accountability.

In the final indignity the completed project suffered from flooding, as the original site had been a brewery and there were hidden underground springs. Then in 2006 one of the beams in the debating chamber swung loose due to missing and damaged bolts and poor glue, and the MPs were evacuated.

The lesson that is usually drawn from the Scottish Parliament building is that the client did not know what they wanted and proceeded with a brief that was poorly developed. However, the conduct of the civil servants involved was, in my view, deplorable. After the Fraser Inquiry’s report was handed down there were further investigations by the Scottish Parliament into their conduct, however no action was taken against any of the individuals involved.

Clearly, when civil servants get involved in these large complex projects, guidelines on governance need to be established and rigorous standards need to be enforced. One of the recommendations of the report was that independent advisers should be employed and those advisers need to have direct access to ministers, without their advice being filtered by public officials.

Holyrood is an extensively documented project. The link to the Fraser Inquiry report is below, the Conclusions and Findings are the most relevant. There is a Wikipedia page that is comprehensive, including a timeline of cost increases and many links.


This is the second parliament procurement case study. The first was on the building of Westminster in 1837.