Public procurement: EBC participates to High Level Construction Forum session on BIM in public contracts

In the context of the High-Level Construction Forum, the European Commission organized this week the webinar “Building Information Modelling and Public Procurement – two allies,” where EBC was invited to share the perspective of its construction SMEs and crafts.

Following the opening remarks by Ilektra Papadaki, Anita POORT and Pieter Staelens respectively from the Public Procurement and Construction units of DG Grow, provided a detailed presentation of the upcoming ‘Digital Public Buyers Platform’ and ‘Community of Practice around BIM in Public Procurement’ initiatives, both expected to kick-start officially early next year.

This new communities will gather public authorities and public procurers for construction and infrastructure projects with the purpose of advancing the implementation of BIM, by sharing lessons learned and best practices on the implementation of BIM through public procurement. In addition, the platform will be the Commission’s privileged channel for communications on tools, trainings, events, webinars on those topics and a connection to other relevant EU forums and initiatives.

The announcements by DG GROW were followed by two panel discussions: the first, on the expectations and needs of public buyers; the second, on the needs of the contractors and the private sector.

EBC Secretary General Fernando Sigchos Jiménez participated to the second panel, exchanging with Annina LEHIKOINEN, Manager of building SMART Finland and Sue ARUNDALE, Director General at the European Federation of Engineering Consultancy Associations EFCA. The discussions revolved around the biggest challenges encountered when responding to BIM requirements in public procurement tenders, best practices when it comes to introducing BIM in public procurement, but also feedback on the initiatives announced by the Commission. In addition, a broader exchange on how to accelerate the uptake of BIM in the sector took place.

Mr Sigchos Jiménez insisted on the need to rethink public procurement, considering the reality of increasingly less bidders, with contract cancellations due to a lack of bidders or single-bidder contracts showing a decline in competition. He reminded that the access of construction SMEs and crafts to public contracts is still very much hindered by administrative burdens, the lack of knowledge of public purchasers in the field of construction, the persistence of abnormally low tenders, the general focus on price instead of quality of works and long-term performance, as well as the lack of EU implementation guidelines for public authorities on how to make the best of the current Public Procurement Directive.

Regarding the digitalisation of the construction sector, he insisted on the need to be vigilant that the introduction of mandatory BIM requirements in public procurement does not function as an additional barrier for SMEs, leading to their further exclusion from public tenders and oligopoly of large players for public contracts. A soft-landing transition from traditional public procurement methods to BIM-based ones is necessary, while achieving a minimum general level of knowledge about digital construction within the workforce. He continued by noting the increasing uptake of digital technologies by construction SMEs, including BIM, provided that digital tools are adapted to the renovation market, financially accessible and with an SME-friendly training approach. He flagged the risk of frontrunners being better considered in public tenders, which would mean that SMEs with less or little experience in each procurement type will have difficulties to compete.

He concluded by highlighting the importance to promote a narrative on BIM as a collaborative solution to the management of information along all lifecycle phases of a building, including traditional buildings and renovation works, while reinforcing the considerable work underway in European standardisation. He noted that EU standards for BIM should be SME-proof as they can have a significant impact on professional processes, with open standards being used by public procurers to enable any actor of the supply chain and especially SMEs to provide data without worrying about the software chosen.

Considering that a substantial part of EU public investment in the EU economy is spent through public procurement, EBC will closely monitor and actively participate in the related debates, such as the obligation to use BIM in public contracts and the upcoming revision of the Late Payments Directive.

To read the EBC position paper on the implementation of public procurement in the EU, click here.