Monthly Archives: October 2013

Zen and the Art of Procurement within ERDF projects

Art may seem an unusual approach to ERDF project management, but please stick with me here. We find different styles in art, such as Impressionism, Realism, and Minimalism. None of these really covers ERDF though, especially not Minimalism, and ERDF probably needs a whole new style of its own, something like Completeism.

My advice to any new ERDF project manager is, the only thing you should throw away is the waste paper basket. Every scrap of paper is part of the records of the project, to be indexed and kept on file for the next 20 years. It may seem a flippant remark, but the truth is not far from it.

It is in the public domain that a substantial proportion of ERDF audits find issues with procurement, and especially when concerning high-value contracts. My impression is that a decent number of these issues could be resolved if project managers follow the approach of not throwing any records away. Of course, there will be some audit findings where the correctness of the process followed is in question, and not just the records.

Currently, section 12 of Guidance Note (GN): ERDF National Procurement Requirements, ERDF-GN-1-004 covers Record Keeping (page 20). The following seeks to expand on this point with two operational examples, but obviously always refer to current guidance.

For what it is worth, I would suggest that the following file structure, or something similar, may be a useful checklist for project managers on the completeness of the records required for high-value procurements. Remember that these records will be Commercially Confidential, so secure storage and Non-Disclosure Agreements will be required. For details on OJEU thresholds please see

  1. Explanation of procurement procedure selected with a justification
  2. Copy of OJEU Tender Notice with its reference number, or the relevant advertisement and OJEU Prior Information Notice (PIN) if applicable
  3. Blank PQQ including the Selection Criteria
  4. List of EOIs received and PQQs issued, or reasons why declined
  5. List of all completed PQQs received (time and date, signed), with copies of all the PQQs as received
  6. Copy of the PQQ completed score sheets, dated and signed by two people, including records of any moderation process
  7. Blank ITT form including the Award Criteria
  8. Copies of feedback letters with PQQ scores, and ITTs where successful
  9. List of all ITTs issued and received (time and date, signed), with copies of all the ITTs as received
  10. Copies of correspondence, including interview questions where used
  11. Copy of the ITT completed score sheets, dated and signed by two people, including any moderation process
  12. Copy of report on evaluation of ITTs
  13. Copies of letters to unsuccessful tenderers giving a standstill period (“Alcatel”)
  14. Copy of award letter, and the signed contract if used
  15. Copy of OJEU award notice with its reference number
  16. Copy of notes from any inception meeting
  17. Summary Timeline and archive details to assist future monitoring and audits.

For procurement values below-OJEU thresholds, such as: Free-Standing Call, or a Mini-Competition within a Framework; consider:

  1. Explanation of procurement procedure selected with justification
  2. Copy of contract advertisement (eg ContractsFinder if <£20k, otherwise eg myTenders to cover all Member States, and a 10+ days deadline), or copies of a mini-competition call to approved suppliers within an appropriate Framework
  3. List of EOIs and quotes received (<£20k) or tenders issued (>£20k),
  4. List of all completed quotes or tenders received (time and date, signed)
  5. Copies of correspondence, including interview questions where used
  6. Copy of quote or tender score sheets, dated and signed by two people
  7. Copy of report on evaluation of responses
  8. Copies of letters to unsuccessful applicants giving an appropriate standstill period (if appropriate)
  9. Copy of award letter, and the signed contract, purchase order form, etc
  10. Copy of notes from inception meeting, if any
  11. Summary Timeline and archive details to assist future monitoring and audits.

Key: OJEU – Official Journal of the European Union; PQQ – Pre-Qualification Questionnaire; EOI – Expressions of Interest; ITT – Invitation to Tender.


I am at times on contract to DCLG on ERDF Compliance, and nothing in this blog or post represents official policy, just my personal views.
This blog and post are in the interests of general and professional discussion and nothing constitutes particular advice for any project or person.

We are losing sixty years of social mobility

Social mobility has stopped in its tracks, and most fair-minded people connect increases in inequality with decreases in social mobility. A report due to be given to Parliament this Thursday is said to warn that today’s children will be a generation that fares worse than their parents. There is a perfect storm of graduate debt, unemployment, and unaffordable housing. Once again, you will need rich parents to give you a good start in life.

One of the best starts in life is a good education.

It may seem a cliche that my generation was often the first to go to university. But for me it was true, and it was keenly felt by my parents and grandparents.

My mother’s father was one of eleven children. In the early 1910s he was offered a scholarship to Manchester Grammar School but his family were too poor to accept it. He left school at 13. In the 1930s he was unemployed and he had the offer of work as a trainee signalman at Preston, and apparently he loved the railways, but the offer was withdrawn by the employers because of the General Strike. When my mother was two years old he and the family moved from Lancashire to Essex to find various jobs, eventually as a baker.

My mother’s mother returned to her work in 1932 on four looms in a cotton mill ten days after giving birth to my mother. Her life was the church and as a volunteer in the Red Cross, long before the NHS.

My mother, a reporter for a local paper in Essex, was offered a trainee job on Fleet Street in the mid 1950s but the family could not afford to support both her and her older sister’s teacher training course.

My father’s father was a steel engineer who tested the quality of welds. He died young of throat cancer after someone stole the lead casing of the radioactive source used to X-ray welds. He had to drive it unprotected back to a factory and died shortly afterwards. Another relative in my father’s family died at sea on a trawler when the net’s ropes swung across, cutting into him like scissors against the side of the ship.

My father’s mother survived well, becoming active in the then Liberal Party in Newcastle and writing conference motions well into the 1980s, of which the one on cruise missiles ‘not on our soil’ was her proudest.

Neither of my parents and none of my grandparents went to university, and some barely had a school education. Libraries probably taught them more than schools.

To say they were pleased to see me get a place at university really doesn’t begin to explain how they felt. I had a grant. I could claim social security benefits during the Christmas and Easter breaks. I could find good jobs in the Summer break. But only up to 1980 when unemployment rose again and I had to pursue my interests as a volunteer on benefits for some years until a job came along.

So, when I read well-fed right-wing commentators and politicians decrying the 1960s and the 1970s I know what they are really scared of – my family being given a proper education, and frankly of people like us having a chance at getting their better-paid and comfortable jobs.


Manchester is the most vibrant urban area in UK

The recent Experian report on 75 urban areas in the UK rated Manchester as being the most vibrant. The data used was eight categories from the 2011 Census for each urban core, 1km in radius.

The eight factors reported as being used to decide each urban area’s vibrancy were:

  1. Extent of unemployment

  2. Student populations

  3. Professionals

  4. The amount of private renting

  5. The amount of social renting

  6. Households with any home ownership

  7. The percentage of households with outright home ownership

  8. The percentage of purpose built flats

Obviously this reflects on data used from within the city centre rather than the wider city or conurbation, but nevertheless is a strong vote of confidence in the city, and not least in its regeneration partnerships and their governance. The changes since the 2001 Census are profound. The data shows that the urban core is no longer being hollowed out, sadly unlike a lot of other cities, particularly in the USA.

One aspect of the revival in urban living that has not had its due weight, in my opinion, is that of older people as welcoming vibrant, city centre living, as well as students and young professionals. Based on some work from 2009 I wrote a post exploring this topic, link below, which I feel is still relevant in today’s world. In an economic nutshell, it is the Grey Pound, but just as important it is about sustainable, healthy cities and the quality of life in later years.

For some reason, I find this an increasingly important topic as the years go by… 🙂

New tasks for ERDF projects in checking claims and files

This blog post asks whether there is a win-win in ERDF projects using “fresh eyes” to save money by avoiding penalties. Previously these QA checks were done mostly in-house, but in the current jobs climate they may need to be re-invented.

Declaration: I am currently contracted to DCLG, and all comments here are strictly my personal thoughts only.

It is in the public domain that all types of EU budgets, including ERDF (European Regional Development Fund), have a target rate for financial irregularities set for them that is ideally below 2% and certainly expected to be below 5%. Also publicised is that there are three types of mistake, each with increasing consequences, and these are: errors, corrections, and irregularities.

An error can be remedied without penalty, but needs to be done by the project and early on in the process of claiming funds.

A correction is where time has run out to remedy a mistake as an error, or it is systemic, so there is a financial cost to the project.

An irregularity is the most severe form of mistake, usually found at audit rather than by the project, and this incurs the largest penalties, up to 100%.

People familiar with ERDF, and especially those people who keep up with the details, will know that the processes for claiming funds have recently become more involved. There is now a new 10% check of all the supporting documents. These new checks are mostly in the hope of changing the culture (where necessary) within projects so that mistakes are picked up at an early stage (as errors) before they can become irregularities.

However, some project cultures do not perceive this new 10% check as an opportunity to QA (quality assure) the other 90% of their claims, but rather as an additional item of bureaucracy. To some extent, again in my personal opinion, this is reinforced by public sector organisations generally having a depleted back-office capacity.

But in fairness it also has to be said that some organisational cultures have considered themselves, speaking bluntly, as somehow above and immune from the grubby details, even when they had more staff than now.

Now, while we are being fair, ERDF is not the easiest fund to access that the world has ever devised, and no-one in ERDF is in a position to claim perfection, whether we are in Brussels, London or Lower Pudlington on the Marsh. But if perfection isn’t possible, nevertheless substantial improvements certainly are possible and necessary.

I have recently started writing some fiction, just out of interest as both my parents were writers, and my first book is around 80,000 words. And no, this isn’t a joke about bidding… One lesson I have come across for new writers from experienced people such as senior publishers, and it is given time and again, is to always have a Copy Editor review your work. Even the best authors have them, and need them. Much lower down the food chain, I found a glass of orange juice of mine had turned into a cup of coffee on the next page. There are bound to be more mistakes like this which I just cannot see. Missing commas. Repeated phases repeatedly.

Copy editing is also an art form in diplomacy, how to nicely let someone know their mistakes, which is mostly saying that, actually, everyone makes them.

So, at the level of each project we have a choice. We can either (a) moan and complain about EU funding and its lower level of tolerance for mistakes than we find in UK funds, or (b) we can take up arms and rebuild into the processes of many projects a respectful, professional, knowledgable QA role.

Clearly I favour the latter, and the scope should start with current and recent claims, then moving on to prepare all the project files in readiness for any full audit. Perhaps if I was more selfish I might instead favour the former – sit back and complain – creating more work for auditors!

Consultation on HS2 and Manchester Piccadilly rail station changes

Manchester City Council is consulting on various ideas for the regeneration of the neighbourhood around Manchester Piccadilly rail station. Two large documents can be downloaded at and responses are asked for by 8 November 2013.

In the previous post I looked at the Mayfield area to the south side and its Strategic Regeneration Framework. In this post I cover the HS2 proposals to the north side of the station.

So now, to the HS2 proposals.

Overall the 76 page of options and proposals gives a very thorough and thoughtful coverage of the key issues. The HS2 addition of four new platforms to the existing rail station is handled well. A key challenge is that international high-speed trains have a standard length of 400m, a quarter of a mile long, whereas the longest platform at the station currently is ‘only’ around 240m long. This extra length is mainly resolved by bringing the four new platforms much closer to London Road, demolishing Gateway House in the process.

I hesitate to add a ‘however’ in the current febrile political climate regarding HS2. Like any long-term area regeneration programme it is essential to obtain a cross-party consensus, and HS2 is a regeneration programme with 20 years ahead of it. But we cannot allow the ‘antis’ to close down debate and discussion, though of course we must be careful not to feed their machine.

So, in strong support of HS2, I would emphasise two design points which I feel need further attention.

Firstly, HS2 track will carry national and international trains. Absolute care must be taken to comply 100% with UK Border policy requirements, which requires total border control at the station, not later on the train. Therefore, the proposals for an open flow between the existing platforms and the new HS2 platforms, however desirable, is substantially forbidden. One of the reasons that the Regional Eurostar service failed in the 1990s, even though millions of pounds had been invested, is that wrong assumptions were made at a very high level in the project team about on-train border control being possible, when it was never going to be allowed. I have some more details if needed.

The pattern of service, particularly in the early years, may well be one where departures to London are mostly during the day, and international departures via the Channel Tunnel are mostly at the ‘shoulder’ times of early morning and late evening. It may be that one or two of the four HS2 platforms become placed behind a secure glass wall (as at St Pancras) but this should be integral to the design. Segregated passenger handling will also be required, with police and HMRC as well as UK Border Agency facilities.

Secondly, the proposed design for the new HS2 platforms has them placed on a raised level with an undercroft to allow for permeability and active frontages. One design option is to enlarge and relocate the existing Metrolink stop into this new undercroft. This undercroft should be built carefully in order for clear paths for another four HS2 platforms to be easily added at a future date below the first four on the raised level, with interim uses meantime. To avoid extra cost and disruption the Metrolink stop should be enhanced underneath the main station, basically staying roughly where it is now. Active frontages can be maintained, but clearly there are implications for permeability, and design solutions for this would be welcome now.

It is important to future-proof transport infrastructure as much as possible. When the M25 was built it was politically necessary to build it as three lanes wide in each direction. But the engineers built the bridges across the new M25 wider than strictly necessary, enough to span four lanes and a hard shoulder in each direction, saving on costs and disruption when the inevitable widening happened a few years later. The same for HS2 here would be sensible.

Consultation on ideas for the Manchester Piccadilly rail station city quarter

Manchester City Council is consulting on various ideas for the regeneration of the neighbourhood around Manchester Piccadilly rail station. Two large documents can be downloaded at and responses are asked for by 8 November 2013.

This is mine, with some background first.

The proposals are in two parts: the Mayfield area to the south and the HS2 area to the north. The Mayfield area is set to change first, not least because of Network Rail’s imminent plans to add two extra platforms to the station on the south side, and the impact that change will have on the surrounding area. HS2 will come later, on the north side, but has to dovetail in.

So, to the Mayfield proposal. It is an update on a previous plan from 2010, and towards the end of the document there are, to my mind, the most thoughtful elements. Some of the early pages contain statements that are somewhat ‘any-place’. Does anyone still expect “mixed retail and leisure” will make a scheme viable in the near future? Later on, as I say, there is a sense that market conditions will be very challenging, along with some lighter design touches to what earlier appears to be some heavily massed buildings. The urban park approach is to be highly welcomed, but not one in permanent shade.

The proposals rightly emphasise in the proximity of the train station as an asset for any new offices nearby. But this proximity is also an asset in the evenings. People can meet up, talk or socialise to around 9.30pm, then catch a train over the road and be tucked up safely in bed up to 50 miles away early enough for a ‘school night’.

A niche music quarter

No-one wants a city quarter that just displaces activity from other quarters. So, how about a niche quarter for music? Music today does not require the bespoke complex studios of a few years ago, and to a large extent the recording and transmission of music is covered by the digital economy. But the experience of live music, of musicians as well as music, is these days somewhat limited to large venues and large acts. The micro cultures of trad jazz, of electric folk, of R&B, never mind say African or Japanese inspired music, are hard to nurture yet bring wonderful cultural and social benefits.

Prof Richard Florida and others have written extensively on culturally driven urban renaissance, and there is strong evidence that much of the British 1960s pop culture grew out of cities with international ports, cultures and music shops where music of black origin, especially the American South blues, gained a foothold in youth culture.

So imagine an area of the city where just 100 like-minded people drawn from a 50 mile radius can meet after work in an evening and share a liking for hard core soul music, or whatever, times twenty or thirty. Similarly, most musicians will be holding down a day job while pursuing their passion. The residential properties within the Mayfield area would appeal to some such performers with a day job in the city if evening performance and networking were possible.

In a nutshell, the suggestion is for a number of small scale, flexible indoor spaces aimed at audiences of 50 to 150 roughly. The Robert Bolt theatre (in Sale, M33) gives an example of this small, multi-use format. And the anchor tenant could be the Royal Northern College of Music.

(The next post will be on the HS2 proposals for north of the station.)