Public works under review

Francesc Pla Carrer Ena-cent-50

There’s no way I’ll wait until it has passed to write this. In fact, whenever I wait for the anger to pass, I forget the reason.


A year ago, we lost a tender to build a beautiful museum of prehistory because the bid ranked fifth in quality by the panel of judges was fifteen hundred euros cheaper. Impossible, right? Well, no. This is how things go.


Two years ago, we won a tender to design a footbridge over a roadway by only a few hundredths of a point because the second-ranked concept had skimped so much on their budget the judges had to resort to decimals to make sure our proposal, which they preferred, would win. By the skin of our teeth.


Today, destiny has come back for us again and Montcada i Reixac will not enjoy the urban development of the N-150 motorway selected by the panel of judges for its design quality, but the one that excelled in offering the most competitive professional fees. Wonderful.


But, there’s more! Our team had already taken an 18% cut from what the public administration considered optimum fees to come up with the concept, develop the project and take charge of the project. So, the winner (35% price cut) thought they could work for even less and was rewarded for it. What the fuck?!


A great team and a beautiful proposal thrown on the rubbish pile to burn.


Things aren’t going well. At all. And I don’t mean my team, which, after all, is working and seems to be well appreciated. No. I’m talking about the world around us.


Thinking about how to turn a road that crosses an urban area into a community axis can’t come down to a few thousand euros in fees. That’s stupid. In other words, we walk through streets, meet in squares and read in libraries that could have been better. But, because of a ridiculous difference in professional fees, negligible really compared to what the public works cost to begin with, we have something that experts already said wasn’t the best option.


It’s stupid. It is absurd to toss out a project that experts consider better just for money. What money? Let’s see. Some people who do not value their work win tenders. Do we want cities to be built by people who make the profession precarious? What are the consequences of working for less than normal? Does this improve the project? Can this possibly improve the salaries of the team? And, what should matter most to those who believe in this religion, does this ensure savings in the final execution, which is the figure that may matter most?


For those unfamiliar with these dynamics of public works, I want to briefly summarise how important what I’m explaining is for everyone.


More nonsense. On the one hand, you must work to be judged and scored by a committee of experts. You have to fill in forms with graphs and texts to justify your idea. So far, so good, pretty much, because I want to say that it is almost always a lost cause. On the other hand, the monetary offer is just a figure. A number that does not have to be justified in any way. Is this reasonable? Shouldn’t we be interested in knowing how a team manages to do a project for 35% less than the standard fee? Does it copy it from somewhere else? Does everyone at the company earn less than standard wages? Is it easy for them? Don’t they plan to do any research? Will they allocate the absolute minimum resources? Does investing less in the project guarantee a better outcome? You already have the answer.


Public works should be taken seriously. And things that are easy to improve, be improved.

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