CoStar Column: Working with contractors

By Mark Richardson - Wednesday, June 13, 2018 12:10

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Here are some words we don’t usually associate with the construction industry: small, local, trusted. And yet – in a post-Carillion world – it may well be the future, writes Mark Richardson, delivery director at U+I.

At U+I, we work best when we work together. We believe that by working in partnership with both the private and the public sectors, we can bring value to undeveloped land for local communities. This focus on partnerships trickles down all the way to our approach to construction.

Rather than taking a one-size-fits-all approach to choosing our contractors, we match our partners to the size, the location and the complexity of the projects. That means we’re not always working with the biggest names, whose footprints stretch across the globe. Instead, we work with the partners we trust to do the particular job best.

Last week, for example, we appointed Graham Construction as the first contractor on our £200m Preston Barracks development in Brighton. This is a significant job for a regional contractor, but the benefit is that it makes them determined to deliver for us.

In turn, we help them do that. That starts with us taking a leap of faith to de-risk the project on behalf of our partners. We often place the contract for the entire works with a Tier 2 main contractor who has a single point of responsibility for the design coordination and delivery. To ensure we have best in class trade contractors working for that main contractor we then open a project bank account therefore guaranteeing funding to those businesses. We have recently done just this at Circus Street, Brighton.

Faith is matched by trust. If we trust – we create trust – and in turn, we foster good partnership and collaboration – the pillars of successful construction.

Working with a local contractor doesn’t just make business sense, however. It’s also vital if we’re to succeed in our mission to nurture communities for the long-term.

We know there is a need to upskill the next generation. Currently, there are around 150 trade specialisms required to complete a project. Yet apprenticeship training in the UK lags behind. Brexit and the devaluation of the Sterling against the Euro is making the UK less attractive to foreign workers. The result is a worrying skills shortage here in the UK.

At U+I, we’re determined to play our role in tackling that crisis, and giving back to young people and to the communities in which we work. One of the ways we’re doing that is by working with contractors who support local employment, who invest in upskilling and who supervise their own workforce. At our Circus Street project in Brighton, for example, 20 per cent of the workmen are local. Access to that local knowledge-base is also invaluable. For example, it allows us to reduce our carbon footprint through more efficient waste removal.

Of course, there is still a place for Tier 1 contractors, but ultimately, our goal is to be a partner of choice – for our contractors, for the councils with which we’re working, for the communities for whom we’re building. Doing that successfully means choosing our construction partners well – and in turn building trust and fostering a collaborative relationship for the long term.

Mark Richardson, delivery director U+I

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