Scottish parliament building and the idea behind it

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This paper introduces ideas about the Scottish Parliament Building regarding the idea behind it, its design, the process, the performance, project management, strategic management, the problems caused during project stages (i.e. time delay, extra cost). Obviously it is too difficult to cover all of these the problems and defects caused at the early stages or during the project process. However, this paper will try to identify and analyze these problems and find a relationship between them, in addition to suggesting better solutions or actions that could have been taken in order to deliver the project more successfully.

At the end, this paper attempts to deduce the lessons that have been learnt, and relate them to the current situation in the construction industry.


It would be useful to start this paper with brief introduction to the project. Lord Sewel, a junior Scottish Office minister, once said: "We are embarking on a new venture and we must allow for the fact that those leading the venture - that is, the elected members of the parliament - will want to influence the outcome" (Auditor General of Scotland, 2004).

The officials in Scotland wanted to succeed in this challenge but they were under considerable time pressure. They needed the building as soon as possible because they were in temporary accommodation and expected to be there for at least the first two years of the new parliament. Initial funding for the project was provided by the Scottish Office. It has since received funding from the Scottish Executive and a number of academic funding bodies.

After much discussion and debate, Scottish officials decided that the location for the new parliament building should be in Holyrood. This proposal was a late entry into the site selection process. However, dialogue with Scottish and Newcastle, the then owners of the site, continued and they offered it in December 1997. In January 1998, Donald Dewar, the former first minister, identified the selection of Holyrood as: A purpose-built parliament, offered to make a statement about Scotland's future; its city centre location; and its historical links. (cited in

The choice of design and architect also took time through stages of competition. Seventy teams were originally chosen to continue in the competition and five teams reached the final stage. These final five teams were asked to produce indicative design ideas for the Parliament building at Holyrood.

There was criticism at that time that these five short listed design teams were 'not Scottish enough'. In other words, they may not have a full enough conception of Scottish history and, furthermore, that their ambition to be involved in such a project might divert it from its main concept. Nevertheless, the final decision was taken and the competition has been won, on sixth of July 1998 by Enric Mirallesy Moya of Barcelona in partnership with RMJM (Scotland) Ltd of Edinburgh.

Unfortunately, the project started and completed with failure - in that both costs and timing were extremely underestimated. The final result was a delay of 3.5 years and an over spend of £300m.

Fortunately, the project was delivered with high success in terms of the quality target. Moreover, it is now a real case study for researchers and similar projects.

Late Delivery in the Project:

The project to build a new parliament for Scotland was considerably overdue. In May 2003, this delay was 3.5 years.

The report produced by the Auditor General Report in 2004 came to the following main conclusion: The main cause of the 20 months delay to the project, since September 2000, was the production of detailed design variations and the late supply of information during the construction process.

First, it would be useful to start our analysis by considering the procurement route chosen for the project. The decision to adopt construction management as the procurement vehicle for the construction of the Holyrood building was found to be "one of the most significant, if not the most significant" decisions taken during the course of the project. separate construction management offers gave the advantage of speed but a disadvantage that the price was uncertain until the last contract had been leased (one of the over-budget reasons for the project).

From other point of view, in regards to the procurement method adopted, there was an inadequate level of evaluation or understanding of the construction management route; subsequently ministers were not informed of all the risks involved; and one of the main reasons for delay is that the client was not experienced enough to deal with a complex project like that of the Scottish parliament building. In addition, in the construction procurement route, for the client to triumph over this shortfall in experience he should have entered into a contract with a more qualified project manager. Moreover, the client should have hired numerous specialist contractors rather than just the one main contractor. This in fact gives the client closer involvement with the project throughout its whole lifetime. This is could be considered one of the reasons for the delay in the project, as the client was not sure enough about his needs and neither did he have a clear concept of the project as a whole, apart from the fact that it should reflect something about the nature of Scottish history.

Brief Design


As a result, instead of reducing the duration for delivering the project, we found that this choice was a main reason for its delay since the risks and challenges were not fully appreciated by the client and project management beforehand. Moreover, synchronizing the design process with the construction, combined with the time pressure and the stress by quality issue, made progression of the design process more difficult to control and update. As a result, the detailed design was made late at every stage.

I would suggest that perhaps using another procurement route technique, that gave a considerable gap between design and construction, Management contracting for example, could made a difference and given the design team a chance to work under less pressure, at the same time as giving the benefits from this route; by having the design and construction both progressing. Despite having the same disadvantages as with the construction management procurement route there would have been less certainty of the price at the outset.

Brief Design


Contractual link

Communication link

Repeated Processes:

Egan, in section 31 of his report, stated: "We have repeatedly heard the claim that construction is different from manufacturing because every product is unique. We do not agree. Not only are many buildings, such as houses, essentially repeat products which can be continually improved but, more importantly, the process of construction is itself repeated in its essentials from project to project. Indeed, research suggests that up to 80% of inputs into buildings are repeated. Much repair and maintenance work also uses a repeat process. The parallel is not with building cars on the production line; it is with designing and planning the production of a new car model". In spite of this, the Scottish Parliament building is unique. While most of the activities in construction projects are repetitive processes, as stated in the Egan report, it could be argue that there was a misunderstanding of the nature of the project and the difficulties associated with it. This misunderstanding was caused because of the fact that the project was unique, so the specialized experience and expertise required were rare. Moreover, the necessity to introduce a landmark building is one of the factors that hampered the project. In other words, the delay caused during the lifetime of the project would be less if it was a repetitive project, instead of repetitive activities, as it was very complex in nature, with big challenges to deliver and a high quality building to produce on a densely developed site, against very tight deadlines.

Another reason that caused the delay on the project was that there were some design elements provided by trade contractors which required prior approval by the design team. This scenario raises the considerable question that, if the design team was professional, then what were the reasons for allocating this responsibility among the contractors?

Design Failure:

Obviously, there was some uncertainty about the program throughout the whole project, which is considered to be one of the main factors that caused the delay. In other words, unachievable targets were chosen and set in place within an inadequate timetable. This slippage and uncertainty came about because:

* There was a huge failure in the production of design information by the design team or by the trade contractors. Unfortunately, Miralles - the design team leader - died just a few months after construction started in 2000. This meant the loss of one of the main connectors between the client and the rest of the design team (cited in

* The progress between clients as regards the approval of each action point in the project and its target. Unfortunately, there were a considerable delay during this stage.

Construction Manager:

The construction manager is responsible for the programmed management during the project, including exercising all the proper skill, care and diligence that are to be expected in the work. He must apply reasonable endeavours to ensure that the project is executed and completed on time and within budget, although he is not responsible for achieving the program. On other hand, the architect's responsibility is to provide all production information (except where agreed otherwise) and to apply his best endeavours to achieving the project to timetable. Against a background of continued design and procurement slippage, project management and the Progress Group challenged both these parties rigorously but no decisive improvement was achieved. Programmes were issued on the basis that they were targets subject to critical issues being achieved or resolved. When they did not achieve these targets, new ones were sought and approved, but the fundamental problems of non-performance were not overcome.

Is the projects' management responsible for the delay?

To some extent, YES. Delay and Over budget. Audit Scotland stated in their report that "Throughout the project there was tension between the objectives of time, quality and cost", to make it more clear, this table illustrates the end result of the project, by using construction management as the procurement route for the Holyrood project.

Table (1): Achievement of priorities for the Holyrood project. (Auditor General of Scotland, 2004)





First priority

Failed - significant slippage


Fixed budget

Failed - significant increase


High quality required


They also stated that the recognition that was given to the importance of risk management was not sufficient. Moreover, considering construction management as the only method for procuring the project was not correct; due to the many criteria and factors that form the method. It is clear that the advantage of this method is that it delivers projects with a high level of quality within deadlines, especially when applied with its sequence. On the other hand, unfortunately it was not a method that is noted for providing a fixed budget at the outset. Nevertheless, the client considered that there was a fixed budget for the project from the start but did not stated clearly enough what the budget actually was. Here a considerable question introduces itself: i.e. what were the base factors used by the client to state there was a fixed budget for the project?! At that stage there was neither a completed design nor a completed conception of the final view of the project. It might be argued here that one of the main negative influences on the project was the using of insufficient project management to deliver a project with like sensitivity. Moreover, this procurement route needs experienced clients to deal with it, and cannot be used when cost certainty is one of the client priorities. In addition, it gives the client an active role in the project, which had a negative effect - as I can see - on the project. From different point of view, since there was nothing fixed or unchangeable it would have been more beneficial to use another method or to modify the route that was chosen for the project, in order to fit with the client requirements more clearly.

Brief about cost estimation:

Having a general idea about what happened in the cost estimation for the project, and how it changed during the planning process, will give a clear understanding of the problems that the project faced. At the early stage, i.e. the first estimation of the cost of the Scottish Parliament building, in July 1997, the Government referred to a range of between £10m to £40m without clearly stating what these costs were intended to cover.

Next, a report produced after an independent cost consultant for the construction of a building at either Holyrood, Leith or Haymarket, estimated that the basic construction costs would be around £50m (excluding VAT and fees). However, further consideration of building design allowed the consultant to increase his estimates for the cost of construction. In conclusion, the cost estimation at this time was £62m. This increase in the costs referred to three main factors:

1. The increase in the building area from 16,000m2 to 23,000m2 accounts around £4m of the increase. This increase in the total area came about because of the dissimilarity between the original plans for the number of staff (200 staff) and the number that the Parliament currently employs (321 staff).

2. The Miralles' design required a greater degree of circulation space than envisaged in the original building user brief (35% compared with 17%). This accounts for about £6m of the increase.

3. The design team has identified a need for a 'formal' entrance to the Parliament buildings to meet both aesthetic and operational considerations. This adds about £2m. (the Scottish parliament information center, 1999)

The reasons for increased costs:

For the reasons of increased costs, it would be more beneficial to start by introducing the reasons for the increased costs that affected the project budget. After that, I have analyzing these reasons and tried to suggest better solutions that may have helped to reduce and control this increase.

In their report, Audit Scotland said that there were many reasons for these increases. They were mainly because of:

- A 47% of increase in the size of the building, largely due to client request.

- The additional complexity of the approved design of the building compared to the original; resulting in a 48% increase in construction costs compared to the initial estimate.

Moreover, there were other reasons for the extra cost. These were caused by:

- Increased construction costs and the associated irrecoverable VAT.

- Increased fees to advisers and site organisation costs.

- Smaller increases in the remaining fit out: landscaping, site acquisition and programme contingency costs.

As we can see, there was a huge increase in the project costs and the final bill was a massive £431m. The reasons identified above are linked to each other. In other words, we cannot identify any of the reasons individually. The problems in this project started with an "inexperienced client" controlling the planning stages. In similar events, it is a normal consequence of client behavior to change his mind about some details during the early stages, or during the project running, which means unclear or unstable ideas and delays in the project - particularly when using the procurement route, as in this case.

In similar situations, it would be economic and beneficial for the project if the client goes to change his technique in the planning process and introduces another way to procure his project. Providing a Management Contractor as a link between the client body and project contractors would be more suitable. In similar situations, the client will gain many advantages from adopting this position. Firstly, the client will provide an experienced link by inserting a management contractor, which will mean clear and ordered ideas and specified requests. In addition, he will transfer the project risk to this contractor (one of the advantages of the management contracting procurement route), instead of distributing the client communication among huge number of contractors; which would mean extra cost and time and relations will be with one specified part.

Is there any correlation among the reasons identified above?

Obviously, we cannot separate between the reasons identified above that have caused either the delay or the extra costs in the project because they are related to each other. Delay in any project means time and extra cost at the same time.

To clarify the connection between these reasons they can be classified as follows:

Ø Firstly, the inexperienced client, which caused...

Ø An unsuitable choice for the procurement route, which caused...

Ø A lack in the coordination between the design process and construction during the project process, which caused....

Ø A huge number of corrections and changes to the approved design, which is also connected to the inexperience of the client. This caused.....

Ø Extra fees for the design team and site organization, which correlates with....

Ø Changes in the contingences and VAT during the lifetime for the project.

Clearly, the resulting delays and extra costs were caused a chain of related reasons.

Actions could have been taken against time and cost:

To start with the early stages, it would have been helpful if the roles in the project responsibilities had been distributed correctly and clearly. There are also some points of action that could be taken during the project lifetime:

- Firstly, the client part should have introduced a clear leadership for the project that should have had a thorough understanding and appreciation of the EU procurement rules, because working with this situation, as in any project, will lead to inconsistencies between the involved parties.

- Providing a single point of authority between the client and the project management, as this step will help to systemize the orders and the reactions and give them more control. Moreover, appointing a single authoritative to instruct the project manager and the design team for the same previous purpose.

- It is the project management role to work as a link between the client and contractors, especially during the project progression and the design updates requested by the client.

- Provide weekly / monthly progress reports, which should include a regular project cost review, and details of the cost schedule for construction and non-construction fees, such as construction manager fees, VAT, consultants fees etc. This step might be helpful for controlling the cost increase and give the client a close view of the project progress and his expenditures.

- Where an international architect is recruited, a full and rigorous evaluation should be undertaken to confirm the compatibility of working cultures and practices.

- Where an architect, consultant or other contractor is comparably employed, full contracts, guarantees and bonds should be secured at the outset, to prevent risks to the public purse.

- There are additional actions that could have been taken. These are mentioned throughout this report and might have helped to introduce better performance in this project or, indeed, in similar projects in the future.


The fact is, one of the main objectives of this project was that was intended to be a landmark building. In this regard, it has been highly successful.

Despite the slippage and extra costs that affected the project, a very large amount was achieved. The building is now in use and, the writer view, is likely to satisfy the requirement for a high quality, landmark building that reflects the aspirations of Scotland as a nation. Moreover, it is now can be considered as a case study for both researchers and future projects. In other words, the achievements of the project can be modified as shown in the priorities table below:

Table (2): Achievements and benefits of priorities for the Holyrood project.




Benefits for future


First priority

Failed - significant slippage



Fixed budget

Failed - significant increase



High quality required



In addition, some lessons could be learned from the project:

Ø The contracting firm must be chosen with care, with a full understanding of the project owner's requirements and the risk allocations.

Ø The construction management procurement route is unsuitable for projects of this nature (i.e. public sector projects).

Ø There should be a single point of leadership and control among the all parties and members involved in the project.

Ø Performance should be adequately measured and care taken to ensure improvements from stage to stage.

Ø There should be adequate time for planning and drawing up of a complete view of the requirements before starting the project (i.e. management contracting procurement route may provide - from the writer view - this would be an advantage).


- Auditor General of Scotland, (2004), Management of the Holyrood Project June 2004.

- Egan, J. (1998). Rethinking Construction, the Report of the Construction Task Force. (Egan Report), Detr, Rotherham.

- Information Stated in

- Office of Government Commerce (2007). Achieving Excellence in Construction Procurement Guide 06: Procurement and Contract Strategies. London: Office of Government Commerce.

- The Holyrood Building Project, (15 June 1999), The Scottish Parliament Information Center.