Design in Public Services

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:27 pm on 29th January 2003.

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Photo of Lord Macdonald of Tradeston Lord Macdonald of Tradeston Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Cabinet Office 5:27 pm, 29th January 2003

My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Freyberg, on securing this quite excellent debate. As the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, said, it comes at an important time. This Government have increased levels of capital investment in our public services to their highest, in real terms, for well over a generation. In just four years, we have doubled levels of investment to some £38 billion in 2003–04.

I echo, too, the views of my noble friend Lord Pendry and others. These levels of capital investment are essential to deliver our main ambition, which is the reform of public services. The relationship between this ambition and the role of good design can be simply stated. Understanding and responding to customer experience is the key to successful public service reforms. By redesigning our systems for tracking the views of the users of our public services, we can then redesign services to match more closely the public's needs and priorities. As the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, and the noble Lord, Lord Bhatia, have emphasised, we need that stronger focus on customer needs.

The Government also believe that it is vital that public servants, politicians and other professionals think imaginatively about innovative ways in which we can realise the huge potential of good design to improve and even revolutionise sectors of our public services. As the Prime Minister stated when launching the Better Public Buildings initiative in 2000, we have asked Ministers and departments to achieve real change in the quality of design across the public sector so that we leave a legacy of well liked public buildings delivering well appreciated public services.

Good design is not just a matter of aesthetics, although we should always be aware of the profound impact of attractive products and distinctive buildings on the reputation of institutions and towns and the self-esteem of those who live and work in them. Good design is also about utility and service delivery. Better designed hospitals allow medical staff to deliver higher standards of healthcare and encourage patients to get better quicker, as we have heard. Staff and pupils can no doubt advise on how better designed schools can make teaching more pleasant and productive. Carefully designed local environments help the police to fight crime and promote community safety. In short, good design is a necessity for all our people, not a costly indulgence for a minority of aesthetes.

I hope to persuade the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, therefore, that this Government have learnt from experience that good design need not cost more over the lifetime of the product or building. That is a lesson my colleagues in the Treasury would readily endorse. Good design can also demonstrate how new technology can promote better ways to build, manage and maintain new facilities. When one considers that design investment is usually only about 0.1 per cent of the total cost of building, maintaining and delivering services within a public building, one can see the potential for improvement. As the noble Lord, Lord McNally, warned, whether through municipal ambition or private speculative building, all around us in the public realm is the dismal evidence of past failure and the false economy of saving through the neglect of decent design.

As my noble friend Lord Borrie said, we must be alert to the lessons of that history. Given past mistakes, this Government have also had to start from a poor position. In contracting, the public sector was not often a competent client. In the 1980s and 1990s, building projects typically suffered cost over-runs and delays of some 60 per cent. That is why we invited Sir John Egan to produce his report on Rethinking Construction, which demonstrates how the standardisation of procurement techniques and the transfer of construction risk to the private sector could help us control our capital expenditure plans. By setting tough targets, we now have far more buildings delivered on time, on budget and with fewer defects.

I, too, share the fond memories of the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, of those exciting early days of the Design Council in the 1950s and 1960s. He was pleased to learn that we have resourced two organisations—the Design Council and the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE)—to champion the pursuit of quality design across the procurement process. We understand that we can achieve the most efficient procurement process in the world, but unless we have a committed client working with talented designers, we will still end up with a poor product. We need only to look back at some of the disastrous public building strategies of the 1960s to see that future generations will scrutinise our contribution according to what we deliver, not just how fast we deliver, on the planned £38 billion spend. We, too, want to ensure that PFI projects do not skimp on design, as the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, fears.

We certainly have no cause for complacency. As the Audit Commission recently reminded us in respect of school design, we are still not achieving on a consistent basis the standards we strive for. Nevertheless, in responding to the debate, I want first to set out what we consider we have achieved to date before considering what more we need to do.

We have heard from distinguished former Ministers, such as the noble Lords, Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville and Lord Wakeham, who in their time effectively championed good design and we try to maintain that tradition. Following the launch of the Better Public Buildings programme in 2000, the Prime Minister appointed the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, to chair a group of ministerial design champions.

A Minister champions good design in each government department with a significant capital expenditure programme. This group has been meeting for more than two years and it has made impressive progress. Each department now has a clear action plan for improving design standards which it is systematically implementing. Those are monitored by the CABE.

That system of champions has been replicated across the public sector so that, for example, every NHS trust—hospital and primary care—now has its own design champion. The same applies to regional development agencies, the Housing Corporation and a growing number of local authorities. Each Minister is personally mentoring between one and four large capital projects to understand and influence the procurement process first hand.

Each department has been working hard to improve design standards. The importance of design in healthcare is reflected in empirical evidence from around the world, which demonstrates that high standards of design lead to quicker patient recovery times and improved levels of staff recruitment and retention.

Let me amplify the example of good practice in health given by the noble Lord, Lord Freyberg, and cite one of the studies mentioned by my noble friend Lord Rea. The University of Nottingham compared three healthcare environments before and after they were redesigned. The schemes included a cardiology ward with improved lighting, better external views and the clustering of beds in smaller groups; and a coronary day-care unit with better beds and patient facilities, larger windows and a visitors area. Measured healthcare improvements included lower pulse rate and blood pressure readings among patients; shorter post-operative stays—eight days down from 11 days; and lower prescribed drug intakes. That is a remarkable outcome and the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Chan, a distinguished paediatrician, is a personal testament to the importance of design for patients.

The Department of Health recognised early on that the NHS was achieving inconsistent standards of design in the early stages of its hospital building programme. There were some clear winners, such as the Norwich and Norfolk hospital, but some designs were out-dated in terms of our desire to create patient-focused environments. As a result, the NHS appointed His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales as its design champion and has partnered CABE on a variety of initiatives to improve standards. It has set up a design review process, which should help reassure your Lordships, so that every new hospital project is scrutinised for its quality at the key stage of the PFI process. It has revised its guidance to ensure that it reflects up-to-date healthcare management.

As the noble Lord, Lord Chan, may know, the NHS has also introduced a system of design quality indicators to help all the users of a hospital to be involved in the design process. Finally, it has sent the CABE to help individual hospitals and primary healthcare providers in the early stages of the design process. On hospital signage, I trust that the designers will take note of the lady mentioned by my noble friend Lord Gavron, who, like myself, does not have the Latin, and design something more functional.

The recent Audit Commission report tells a similar story in the education sector. A few years ago, the then Secretary of State for Education asked PricewaterhouseCoopers to explore the main impacts of capital investment in schools on pupil performance. It found that capital investment had the strongest influence on staff morale, pupil motivation and effective learning times. In the early years of this Government, we found that there was a considerable variation in the extent to which the LEAs and individual schools were responding to the design challenge. There were some real success stories, but too many schools were providing environments that were functional but not inspiring.

In response, the DfES has partnered both the CABE and the Design Council to drive the message home. The CABE is now working with every LEA going into a major round of PFI school procurement to act as a confidant and adviser in the early stages of that process. Both organisations are serving on the School Buildings Advisory Group, which also includes educationists, head teachers and designers. The DfES has recently published the results of Classroom of the Future, which used design and innovation to plot a series of responses to the changes in education environments we can expect over the next 10 years and beyond.

Perhaps most significantly, the Secretary of State is commissioning a series of exemplary primary school and secondary school designs, which will combine great architecture and urban design with a drive to maximise the benefits of off-site modular construction techniques. These exemplars will draw on the best design talent in this country and beyond and will act as a resource for all LEAs and individual schools entering into a major building project.

I cannot match the breadth of aesthetic influence on the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, of his school days, but I was fortunate enough to attend Scotland Street school in Glasgow. Sadly, it was the only school ever built by the brilliant Charles Rennie Mackintosh and I wish I had taken my school desk away with me when I left.

As the noble Lord, Lord Freyberg, mentioned, the department has been funding an organisation called School Works to examine new ways of involving pupils and teachers in the design process. Its first active case study was the Kingsdale secondary school in Southwark, which has just achieved a 20 per cent increase in the number of pupils achieving at least five GCSEs at A to C grade level.

All this effort does not start just when children enter primary school. Among our most successful design initiatives have been Sure Start centres and Neighbourhood Nurseries. In both cases, we used national design competitions to set the standards of design at the outset of those initiatives.

The noble Baroness, Lady Warwick of Undercliffe, and the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, reminded us of the importance of educating an ever more creative generation of graduates. I trust that this debate will demonstrate to students of design the broad and strong support for their future role, as witnessed by the entertaining contributions of the noble Lord, Lord McNally, and the noble Baroness, Lady Miller.

On courts and prisons, the Lord Chancellor has pioneered new approaches to the design of court buildings. Again from the outset he has used CABE as a critical friend. He has also employed the internationally-renowned architect, Ian Ritchie, to set appropriately high standards for these landmark buildings.

At the same time, Ministers at the Home Office are working with the Design Council and the independent design organisation, the Do Tank, to rethink the design of prisons. The importance of that issue was highlighted by the noble Baroness, Lady Flather. As I learnt previously from the noble Lord, Lord Freyberg, the cost of keeping a prisoner in gaol each year is twice the cost of Eton School's fees and six out of 10 ex-offenders are still returning to prison within two years. We have to work harder to incentivise those building and managing our prisons to design systems of detention which place greater emphasis on improving the future life chances of the prisoner, and reducing the probability of reoffence.

Of course, the role of design in the delivery of public services is not confined to the delivery of public buildings. In a few days' time, in another place, the Deputy Prime Minister will be publishing his Communities Plan which will set out how this Government intend to create neighbourhoods in different parts of the country which offer the better quality of life which the noble Lord, Lord Kirkham, rightly demands. We face two different problems: the need to deliver additional housing in London and the South East; and the need to renew the housing stock in parts of northern England and the West Midlands. I can reassure the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Chesterton, that the importance of design will be branded into the Communities Plan. Excellence in urban design will be essential in creating higher density mixed use neighbourhoods. This will require the skills of architects, landscapers and planners who will have among their concerns the needs of the elderly, as described by the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross.

The Deputy Prime Minister has already announced at the Urban Summit that CABE will be asked to set up a new unit, CABE space, to champion the design and management of public space, including parks, playgrounds, squares and streets. At present, over half of local authorities have no strategy for making the most out of their green spaces. It is not surprising, therefore, that 30 per cent of the population will not use our parks at all.

Part of the process is designing places that are safe. The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister is currently working with the Home Office, CABE and the police to revise the planning guidelines on designing out crime. Again, there are many empirical studies that show a clear relationship between good urban design and improved community safety. We need to use Secured by Design principles, including increasing natural surveillance and reducing rat-runs, to help local communities and the police deter criminal and other anti-social behaviour.

I hope that your Lordships will agree that this programme of activity demonstrates our commitment to raising our consciousness across Government when it comes to investment in quality design. But we cannot be complacent. I want to close by concentrating on what still remains to be done. Last year, we asked CABE and the Office of Government Commerce to review our design performance in the procurement of public buildings. The report of their review was published last October. The 11 recommendations they made have been accepted by every government department and by the National Audit Office.

Let me add to the praise of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Chesterton, and many others. I feel particularly privileged to speak in the same debate in which the noble Lord, Lord Foster of Thames Bank, makes his maiden speech. It was an outstanding contribution which I take to heart as a Minister. In a previous life, as chairman of the Scottish Media Group, I was fortunate enough to be a tenant in his wonderful ITN building in Gray's Inn Road; and before that as a journalist who once worked in the old newspaper building which stood on the site I congratulate him on the dramatic use he made of the depth of the old print room. As a former Transport Minister, I should say that if one wishes to travel on the Tube, go to Canary Wharf. The station, designed by the noble Lord, Lord Foster, is well worth the journey.

The noble Lord, Lord Borrie, spoke of transport. I understand the problem with taxis. I see them also mutating into people carriers in many of the market places up and down the land. The noble Lord and I are both impressed by the advances made by London Transport with its low-floor buses, and so on—despite the fact that it is at the expense of that splendid classic, the Routemaster, which is a splendid vehicle as long as one does not fall off the platform.

The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, mentioned noise barriers. On the transport side, I assure him that we are very conscious of the needs there. The noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, spoke persuasively of the changing needs of an ageing population, comments which should carry across Government. I listened with great interest to the noble Lord, Lord Gavron, and the experience with the Royal Opera House and its thoroughly enjoyable outcome.

In conclusion, I agree with the general thrust of the argument of the noble Lord, Lord Freyberg, and other noble Lords who have spoken so persuasively from their wide experience of business. We all agree that we have extraordinary design talent in this country, arguably the best in the world. We are already reaping the benefits of that design talent in export receipts. It would be a missed opportunity if we were not to maximise the use of that talent in our drive to improve the quality of public services. We want the best designers and the best architects designing new public buildings and products. Our message to the private sector is quite simple. If you do not employ this design talent, you are reducing your chances of winning business from the Government. Once again, I commend the noble Lord, Lord Freyberg, on securing this debate and congratulate both the Design Council and CABE on their work to date. They enjoy our full support for the future.