Balfour Beatty Tops Contractor League

Building Schools for the Future (BSF) was the largest single government investment in improving school buildings in over 50 years, and it was never short on controversy. Manchester is still undergoing a flurry of construction, including the Grange School, a specialized facility for children with ASD.

Combined BSF and Academies funding of £509 million will be used to rebuild or refurbish 33 schools, seven of which are academies with a focus on special education. Beginning in 2006, the project will be completed by 2013. Work on the foundations of a £14 million school for children and young people with Autism Spectrum Disorder began earlier this year (ASD). Gorton, the new home of Grange School, is scheduled to open its doors to students and faculty in the spring of 2012. The goal of the Manchester City Council is to set an example in the education of children and adolescents with ASD by constructing a cutting-edge school and associated facilities.

It is anticipated that the new school, which will serve students ranging in age from 4 to 19, will more than double its current enrollment of 80 students to 150 students. Higher-achieving students will be housed in a separate wing of the school.

Two additional homes are being constructed on the same property, but away from the school, to provide much-needed housing for children and young people with autism spectrum disorders and their families. Long-term housing will be provided in one home, while short-term housing will be provided in the other. This is a first for Manchester.

The school will include a conference, training rationalization of depots and stores, the introduction of home working for support staff, and the adoption of handheld and tablet PCs, which have allowed operatives to receive and record work orders in the field via handheld and tablet computers.

Berneslai Homes also “maximized” the value for money in its repair services, according to the commission’s report.

On the surface, only 40% of the revenue budgeted work was for planned repairs. As part of its residual capital improvement program, Construction Services did many jobs that would normally be included in preventative maintenance schemes, such as replacing gutters, the report noted. The planned repairs increased by 74% as a result of this work.

As a result, emergency and urgent repairs, which can be costly due to the short notice required, were kept to a minimum and accounted for only 10% of maintenance work in the first three quarters of 2008-09.

Many of these accomplishments can be traced back to the “customer-focused” mentality prevalent among the best private contractors. However, the modernization of DLOs has not solely relied on adopting best practices from the private sector.

Direct and indirect advantages to the private sector have always been provided by in-house contractors.

Businesses in a depressed area like Derwentside benefit from Derwentside’s use of trusted local subcontractors and experts in fields like asbestos removal.

Local contractors can benefit greatly from Gowland’s services, she asserts.

There is a steady flow of work, and we’re not asking for anything in return; we’ll pay a reasonable rate for a reasonable job.

Local contractors can also benefit from DLO-run apprenticeship programs, given the ongoing concern about a lack of qualified workers.

Derwentside and Berneslai both have long-standing training programs, and Gowland says apprenticeships are “massively important” for the DLO as a whole. Ten percent of Derwentside’s employees are apprentices, and the company has even taken on the training of aspiring builders who have been forced to leave other apprenticeship programs due to the economic downturn.

In his opinion, “nothing better” than having local lads coming and knocking on their door to learn a trade is better received by his tenants.

For every £1 million in annual revenue, Berneslai Homes has a contractual agreement with its maintenance partner, Kier, that ensures one apprenticeship position. At any given time, Berneslai has 14 trainees, while Kier has seven.

The ideal situation for DLOs would be to guarantee employment for their trainees, but this is not always the case due to budget constraints and the end of decent homes programs. In-house contractors, on the other hand, often strive to provide high-quality training to help employees land better jobs after graduation.

For those apprentices we can’t hire, we work with our other partners, subcontractors, and even the local council to find them new jobs, says Williams.

For every £1 million in annual revenue, Berneslai Homes has a contractual agreement with its maintenance partner, Kier, that ensures one apprenticeship position. At any given time, Berneslai has 14 trainees, while Kier has seven.

The ideal situation for DLOs would be to guarantee employment for their trainees, but this is not always the case due to budget constraints and the end of decent homes programs. In-house contractors, on the other hand, often strive to provide high-quality training to help employees land better jobs after graduation.

For those apprentices we can’t hire, we work with our other partners, subcontractors, and even the local council to find them new jobs, says Williams.

In my mind, what we’re doing is feeding the industry, and I think that’s always been the case in local governments. I believe we should do this because it would not occur if we did not.

As a result of working with DLOs, private sector partners can also reap the benefits. Local subcontractors can benefit from shared training and assistance in obtaining gas maintenance certification from Derwentside, which lowers the overall cost of doing business.

Public-private relations haven’t always been so harmonious, however.

There was a clear [feeling] ‘we don’t like the private sector and they don’t like us,'” Williams recalls upon his arrival.

He believes it was worth the effort it took to change these attitudes. To create “healthy competition,” Berneslai Homes and Kier are now comparing their progress against each other’s KPIs.

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It raised the bar because “we started to improve, which meant they started to improve as well.”

Williams says the ultimate goal is to create a service where tradesmen may wear different uniforms or drive different vans, but they treat tenants the same and deliver the same high standard of work.

No one can say the same for DLOs, of course. It’s a tough time for everyone, including those who have had repair services outsourced to private companies.

Many are now considering diversifying their businesses in order to keep up with their workloads while also earning more money. Among the company’s notable accomplishments is the refurbishment of a restaurant by DLO Trustworks, which has won work for other housing trusts.

For its part, Berneslai Homes is engaged in international competition, and Williams says the company has been “very successful” in getting shortlisted for projects due to its prequalification questionnaire strength.

Because of the intense competition for work in today’s ultra-competitive tendering environment, he believes DLO can compete on quality alone, but he knows it can only go so far in price reductions to win work.

Many private contractors have won contracts with extremely thin margins only to discover they could not deliver or, even worse, could not sustain their businesses at the rates quoted. This may actually be a good thing. What’s next for DLOs?

In-house contractors have proven their worth and dispelled the old myths, according to Williams, and they must continue to improve their competitiveness, efficiency, and management.

When asked about the advantages of having an in-house provider, he says, “I think this last winter brought it home to us.” On Christmas Day and Boxing Day, Berneslai was able to call in operatives and management to respond to burst pipes and other issues.

According to Williams, “If we hadn’t had an in-house provider, we would’ve struggled.”

Going back a couple of decades, Gowland believes DLOs are now in a “far better position” and many tenants value them highly. In Derwentside, keeping the DLO was a key promise made in advance of the 2006 housing stock transfer.

While some in-house contractors are now bidding for – and winning – tenders on the open market, others stick to their own repair and capital projects.

Williams believes that the “best mix” for the future may be Berneslai Homes’ joint maintenance with a private partner.

For whatever field you’re in, you have to get it right. Barnsley’s two-thirds, one-third model might not work in Sheffield, for example, but I think it’s a great one. you can go from strength to strength if you get that right.”

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For more information visit www.manchester.gov.uk

Last Updated on December 28, 2021

Indra-Gupta

Author: Indra Gupta

Indra is an in-house writer with a love of Newcastle United and all things sustainable.

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