A question dreaded by partners everywhere as, let’s be frank, there is no ‘right answer’. If you are candid and say yes then you will suffer the consequences. If you say no, and it happens that it does, then you have failed to do the right thing for someone who is trusting your opinion.
It’s an analogy that can be applied to the quandary of scoping and pricing work sought by clients on landscape and ecology tasks. Bear with me here …
At The Landmark Practice we are often approached by prospective clients with a request for a fee quotation for, for example, a biodiversity assessment or ecological appraisal. Sometimes the scope of the request is very specific, such as for a Preliminary Ecological Appraisal Report as specified in pre-application advice to the client from a planning authority. Sometimes it can be as general as an architect, for example, suggesting that some ecology information is likely to be needed.
Before we prepare our fee proposal for a specific site we always run a quick desk top study, check for records of protected species or nearby designated sites and review aerial photography. This gives us a pretty good idea of what if any protected species are likely to be using the site, what ecologically sensitive sites might be nearby, and what the key planning considerations are likely to be for the local authority.
When quoting for work at a new site most reputable environmental consultants will include in their proposal letter a caveat advising that further work, outside the scope of the initial quotation, may be needed to answer specific questions relevant to the grant of development consent. For example, Landmark advises clients in relation to preliminary site assessment that ‘Phase 1 Habitat Surveys comprise the first element of ecological appraisal and are used to identify the likely presence or absence of protected species at the site’. We say this because it is rarely possible to confirm with certainty the full scope of protected species requirements until the site visit is undertaken – aerial photography might be out of date or recent changes in site management might have altered the local environment and ecology of the site.
Whilst we believe that it essential for our clients to be made aware of the scope and usefulness of proposed tasks, we also understand that it may not be welcome that, in many instances, the first fee quotation is subsequently followed by a proposal for further survey costs. This is a common problem, known to test contingency budgets.
We are however, an experienced team and, using professional judgement and experience, we can usually give a good indication of likely further survey requirements at this preliminary stage. It is always our preference, therefore, when we prepare our fee proposals, to highlight potential further survey requirements, associated costs/timings, and any likely deficiencies for the client’s development needs in the scope of works that has been requested. We also ensure that we include project expenses in our fee quotes wherever possible.
At Landmark we believe that our clients trust us to give them the information that they need, not just what they want to hear. In a competitive consultancy market, however, we are aware that our candid, ‘no surprises’, approach can penalise us in a competitive quoting situation. In essence, Landmark’s comprehensive fee estimate, framed to fully inform overall project risk and budgets, won’t stack up against ‘bare bones’ quotes which cost only for the requested task. The latter approach clearly appears better value in the short term.
If in doubt, break it out.
So our solution? We will quote for what has been requested and, wherever possible, itemise any further items that we consider may be required to inform consenting or licensing requirements. This is intended to enable quote comparison whilst also giving you as complete as possible a picture of potential project spend.
We are always pleased to receive feedback on our quotations … please do let us know if you agree with our approach!