A scheme has been put forward to transfer government architects to the private sector to trim the size of the Housing Department. The proposal, recently submitted to Chief Secretary Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, was made by the Association of Architectural Practices, which represents 62 firms, or more than 60 per cent of all architectural companies in Hong Kong. Association chairman Dennis Lau Wing-kwong said the Housing Authority should contract out all its design work for public estates to private firms. Under the proposal, bidders would have to hire a certain number of government architects. The government staff could then choose to join the bidding firm on the job and enjoy similar salaries. About 100 architects work for the Housing Department. Mr Lau said a fee of about five per cent of the total project cost would be sufficient to attract private firms to take part in the scheme. At present, the Housing Department charges the Housing Authority 18 per cent to provide design work for public estates. Mr Lau said the scheme would help the private sector, which has been hit hard by the economic downturn and the gloomy property market over the past few years. 'The scheme could generate benefits to the authority, the workers and private firms,' he said. The idea comes as the Housing Authority is facing a huge deficit. It said last week it would be left with a $2.1 billion deficit in 2004-05, as its $21 billion reserve would be used in the next two years, mainly as a result of the sales freeze on flats under the Home Ownership Scheme since last October. The freeze is due to end in June. The Government is reviewing its structure in the housing sector. A Chinese-language newspaper reported yesterday that the administration would scrap the Housing Bureau, which formulates housing policy in the public and private sectors, and transfer its duties to the Housing Department, with the Housing Authority to remain the key body in formulating housing policy. The authority is the statutory body responsible for implementing the public housing programme. It also advises the Chief Executive on all public housing matters. In its first move to trim costs and increase efficiency, the authority earlier started to contract out its estate management jobs to the private sector. Keith Griffiths, chairman of the Board of Practice of the Hong Kong Institute of Architects, welcomed the staff-transfer scheme, saying the authority should speed up its contracting-out process. 'It's a good idea. The jobs could be done by the private sector in more efficient ways,' he said. But he added that salaries to be paid to staff transferred from the Government should be lower than their pay in the administration to avoid affecting the morale of staff in private firms.