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DBA regional head backs campaign to utilise NE talent

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By The Drum Team, Editorial

April 20, 2010 | 4 min read

The regional head of the Design Business Association in the north east is backing a national campaign to make greater use of regional design talent.

Colin Robertson, managing director of Newcastle-based agency Blumilk, is part of a group of creative practitioners lobbying central government to revamp the current landscape of public sector design procurement. Robertson says a reform of the current process would make tendering for work bought by government bodies and organisations more accessible to design suppliers in the region.

He added that designers with creative talent in the region were missing out on lucrative national contracts because of the current public sector procurement system which, he says, is time consuming and too costly for many creative agencies.

“Public sector work forms the highest stake of work available to design agencies in our region, making up 60% of the market.

“Currently, regional agencies are missing out because they are deterred from applying for national public contracts because of the sheer capacity of work, time and cost required to submit a quality application. Design agencies also shy away from applying for contracts because of the sheer volume of applications public sector contracts attract.

“Once an application is received by procurers, the short listing stage takes place without agencies having the opportunity to explain their approach in person.

“This assumes that public sector procurers have a creative knowledge to the standard that is needed to benchmark submissions, which is a huge concern.

“If you’re lucky enough to be short listed, you can be asked to talk through your submission but sometimes you’re not - there is nothing to stipulate how many agencies are shortlisted – it could be four or 40. We’ve known both.

“I understand that hundreds of tenders are received and it must be time consuming to go through them but as a design agency I feel that they deserve that attention to detail and not just by a procurement team but by impartial creative experts.

“I also feel that there should be some kind of policy in place that means public sector design procurement is consistent. No matter which organisation you’re submitting work to and where, the process should be the same. The same amount of people should be short listed and the process should include a pitch stage, whether at short listing or on submission, you should get to meet and chat through your ideas.”

However, Robertson also warned that the region’s designers must up their game and step up to the challenge of tendering for accounts outside the North.

“Agencies must open their minds and look outside the region for new business opportunities. Advancements in technology make it easy for this to happen.” he said.

“The number of agencies in the north of England listed as members with our industry’s trade association, the DBA, is too low compared to agencies from other parts of the country. DBA membership is well represented throughout the country except for the north east. The role of the DBA is to help designers and business owners to run professional businesses that look beyond their region and even set their sights nationally.”

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