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East Anglia Courts

Category: Magistrates Courts

"Q: The DCA is currently reviewing its entire estate so will PFI be part of its future development? A: PFI is a real runner in our weaponry of procurement. There is no longer a political imperative to use PFI but we will continue to choose it when it demonstrates the best value for money solution."

Bob Angel, Project Sponsor at the Department of Constitutional Affairs

January, 2006

The East Anglia Crown Courts PFI project was the first Crown Courts scheme to reach financial close under the Private Finance Initiative.

Four years on, the buildings, which were delivered on budget and three weeks early, have been operational for just over a year.

The PPP Forum interviewed Bob Angel, Project Sponsor at the Department for Constitutional Affairs (formerly the Lord Chancellor's Department) who has worked on the project since the start.

"We actually went through the internal procedures for approval for this and two other schemes back in 1999. The idea was to use them as pilots for the Private Finance Initiative although in reality at that time PFI was really the only route available for procurement as there was no cash available for capital projects.

We were very new to the whole concept and back then there was little strong central guidance in terms of how to draw up the contract. I suppose you could say we were rather hot on process and not so hot on the documentation. Like many other departments we were breaking new ground. So what we did was to take on some external consultants who knew their way around to guide us through the pilot schemes and they were excellent.

The original plan was to complete two smaller projects, the probate registry and a family court in Sheffield before launching into the much more complicated East Anglia PFI but in practice all three schemes happened together. And it was a bit of a nightmare, we were really thrown in at deep end. It was all new to us and it was all new to the market too."

The scheme allowed for provision of new court accommodation in East Anglia, including new Crown Court centres in Ipswich and Cambridge as serviced accommodation for at least 25 years. The capital value was £25m.

"Good practice was central to everything we did on the scheme right from the start. We actually launched East Anglia with a huge presentation in College Hall to all potential bidders at which we made a point of stressing our commitment to quality. All the bidders, I think there were about ten or twelve of them, said that they found this very useful and it’s a practice we now adopt on all our schemes particularly any which are likely to be complex or high profile."

Accommodation schemes for the DCA are concerned with providing serviced courthouse and related accommodation for Crown, county and magistrates’ courts through the PFI. The Department, via Her Majesty’s Courts Service (an executive agency), manages and funds Crown, county and magistrates’ courts. Projects typically involve the provision of new courthouses and/or the renovation of existing courthouses at one or more locations, with the service provider responsible not only for providing the accommodation, but also for the operation and maintenance of court buildings and their services. This usually includes the provision of security, reception, portering, catering, reprographics and possibly other services.

"The negotiation of the contract was tough, lengthy, time consuming and exhausting. We had several sessions which went on late into the night. It’s a lot more settled and standardised now because the negotiation phase of the three pilot schemes formed the basis to draw up a suite of standard documentation.

We have central procurement in the DCA. If you want to stop reinventing the wheel it’s important to learn from experience. The OGC is the organ for the public sector to swap notes. I believe that the more the private sector can do this as standard procedure then the more comfortable they’ll feel about investing in something that really will deliver for them.

Courts are complicated buildings which need to be designed from the inside out. They contain five groups of people who require separate circulation routes: the judge the jury the defendant, the public and the administration staff. That’s not easy on a tight site and you need a market that understands those needs."

Both the Ipswich and the Cambridge Crown Courts were new builds on brown field sites. Cambridge replaced a single courtroom in the old Shire Hall with a purpose built facility containing 3 courtrooms. In Ipswich a new building with five courtrooms replaced an ageing 1970s concrete and glass courthouse which was not big enough and had no IT facilities. Both opened in July 2004.

"Both new builds were on sites we had already acquired and this is an important lesson as it’s something that can cause problems.

As soon as we had a preferred bidder on board we started to hold meetings with the stakeholders and the users and the builders and the FM subcontractors so that everyone was working towards the same goal. These monthly meetings continue today.

We’ve actually only had one deduction so far and that was minor, it was a faulty valve on the air conditioning which could happen to anyone. One of the reasons is that we have a streamlined payment mechanism. We have much more robust penalties if core areas of the building such as the courtrooms are unavailable and we ease up on other areas. It’s just a pragmatic view and it helps contractor to prioritise.

One good thing about PFI is that the builders don’t just walk away on completion of the building, we’re looking at a 25- year relationship and that’s a big pressure to get things right from the start. PFI really does have huge advantages if the partnership ethos is working well. It allows us to get on with the core business of processing people through the courts without having to worry about the maintenance and cleaning of the buildings. Although there are other things for us to do like managing the contract."

Bob believes that a good PFI contract is one which never gets off the shelf but he also has some other advice for anyone about to go down the PFI procurement route.

"Make sure you can afford the unitary charge. PFI tends to deliver a Rolls Royce service and if you run a mixed estate, as we do, you have to be careful to ensure a consistent standard across the board. This isn’t always easy.

Try to keep consistent personnel. We kept the same people involved from the negotiation to the operational phase without chopping and changing. But circumstances can intervene and you have to be able to manage a change of personnel too.

Be hard headed in negotiations but remember you’re in a partnership and be prepared to give in on some arguments.

Do your spadework. The key is to know what you want and what you expect to have delivered and how you want it to run."

The DCA is currently reviewing its entire estate so will PFI be part of its future development?

"PFI is a real runner in our weaponry of procurement. There is no longer a political imperative to use PFI but we will continue to choose it when it demonstrates the best value for money solution. These days we judge each project on merit and will use PFI when it’s appropriate taking into account local issues and logistics and the anticipated volume of work.

In terms of flexibility there is nothing more or less restrictive in PFI and I have done a lot of different kinds of procurements.

Successful PFI really is genuine partnership and won’t work without it. "