Southwark Council: success in increasing diversity in Architects Framework extension

5 October 2021

Around a year ago, Southwark Council faced a difficult challenge when complaints about the lack of diversity in its new Architects Framework arose. Now, the council is delighted to announce that the efforts to address this have paid off – the framework has been expanded by 20 places, increasing the diversity of appointed practices by 8 per cent.

These 20 places are divided between all seven lots, with 14 successful companies joining the framework in total. Seven of these practices are Black-led. When combined with ADS 1, it results in over 15 per cent of the practices on the overall framework being diverse.

The procurement strategy for the original ADS1 framework, managed by LHC, had been designed to attract smaller, local businesses and fresh, new talent to work on the design of new council homes and other public sector projects. While it fulfilled that objective (14 of the original 110 companies appointed had never worked on a public sector project before), and met its basic equality and diversity obligations, there was not a specific objective on ensuring diversity within the framework. Since then, the council and its partner, LHC, have made extensive efforts to explore every possible avenue to improve that, by creating an extension to the framework (ADS1.1), agreed with the vast majority of those on ADS1.

Councillor Helen Dennis, cabinet member for the climate emergency and sustainable development, said: “This is a learning process and we still have far to go, I know that this is an unprecedented approach, and we will not stop at simply improving the diversity of the practices on our framework.

“However, the results we have seen clearly demonstrate our commitment to the leadership role we aspire to in addressing inequalities in the construction industry, and in putting right the complaints we received over a year ago. We had an incredible amount of interest and I sincerely hope that long term, we will attract even more businesses to work with who put equality, diversity and inclusion at the very heart of their practice.

“I hope that this in turn will open up opportunities for future architects from more diverse backgrounds in terms of ethnicity, people with a disability and women. Most importantly, I look forward to the exemplary housing that we build being designed by those who represent the rich diversity of our local community.”

What did we do differently?

In the procurement of the expanded Architects Framework (ADS1.1), the council and LHC undertook significant market engagement and research, targeted at the specific kind of practices we wanted to attract, including offering training sessions and bidding support pre-tender, and many in-depth meetings with local architect practices.

Our research showed that those who excelled at Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) were usually more diverse and inclusive practices themselves. For that reason we introduced a new short-listing criteria which took into consideration Equality, Diversity and Inclusion activities the organisation had undertaken. We then took this theme forward into the invitation to tender and interviewed all 50 applicants, in over 40 hours’ worth of interviews.

All the successful practices delivered on social value in every aspect of their businesses; in recruitment and retention, in advocacy and outreach work, supporting minority networks, sponsoring disadvantaged students into the profession, and through their lived experience and ability to connect with under-represented communities and translate their needs into design.

This approach differs from any other framework procurement nationally. Our unusual and innovative approach ensured that NO positive discrimination is necessary and all successful candidates are appointed on merit in a fair and open process.

The work is ongoing and the council aims to set out a national template of good practice in the construction industry. The results indicate the unique success of the project in attracting a more diverse range of practices than usual, removing many of the barriers that normally make it hard for them to access public sector work, and recognising and assessing their unique talent.

Councillor Alice MacDonald, cabinet member for equalities, neighbourhoods and leisure, said: “This absolutely exemplifies what we want to achieve with our Southwark Stands Together work. It is vital that we see a reflection of our community in the businesses we work with so I am particularly pleased that two of the new practices are local, from Southwark itself, and others from Hackney, Lambeth, Islington, Camden and Tower Hamlets. What greater way to encourage local business and represent a community? As part of the merger of the two frameworks, we set out the expectation that all firms on the existing ADS1 framework  should  address equality, diversity and inclusion in the profession and through their work.”

The process has proven that with intense and targeted pre-tender engagement, clear framework objectives, structured, specific and relevant social value questions around EDI activities, customised scoring and award criteria, and resource and time invested into face-to-face interviews, a more diverse supply base is entirely achievable.

Shona Snow, Regional Strategy Manager London & South East at LHC said: “We have worked very hard with our partners, the practices appointed to the original framework and the wider industry to develop greater understanding into this area so that we can help to increase the opportunities available to a wider and more diverse pool of architects.

“We believe that this represents a significant step forward for frameworks and will be sharing our lessons learned so that we can help to improve practice across the industry. This includes how to evaluate how architecture practices address Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, how to recognise good practice, and an understanding of the impacts that a positive approach to EDI has on design and final project outcomes.”

For more information about using the framework please visit: https://www.lhc.gov.uk/frameworks/consultancy/architect-design-services-ads1/

Page last updated: 05 October 2021