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2012 firms asked to use top teams

The chairman of the Olympic Delivery Authority has said contractors working on 2012 projects must put their best teams on the job or risk seeing their reputations wrecked.

Construction starts in earnest later this year when Sir Robert McAlpine begins piling work on the main stadium at the end of May.

In an exclusive interview with Construction News, John Armitt told contractors: “We are looking for solid support and for their best teams.”

The former Costain and Network Rail chief executive added that all firms working on the job had to think the same way: “This job is too high profile for B and C teams. If you put yourself in the contractors’ position this is not the job where you want your reputation to suffer.

“It’s early days and we’ve had no complaints about the performance of the contractors.

“If I was still at Costain and wanting to work on that, I wouldn’t want to put a B team on it because of the reputational issues.”

Mr Armitt, who works three days a week at the ODA and has been at the group six months, admitted the job’s high profile had affected the number of bidders for the main stadium. But he added: “I think a lot would have seen McAlpine’s name and thought ‘they’re going to be tough to beat’.”

He said 2012 had competed with other big jobs and that meant some Olympics contracts had seen fewer bidders.

He added: “In a market that’s very bullish and strong, contractors can afford to be choosy.”

But he said he expected the ODA to benefit from any downturn in the London commercial market and added: “Some will be sharpening their pencils and looking at things that perhaps they might not have before.”

This week Skanska chief executive David Fison said some schemes planned for the City could get pulled because of funding issues, while British Land wiped £1.4 billion off the value of its property portfolio because of worries over future work.

Mr Armitt said main stadium work would begin around two months earlier than planned and was aiming for a spring 2011 finish.

The ODA has built a year-long timelag into the work which Mr Armitt said was vital for a project like the Olympics. He added: “We don’t want to eat in to that 12 months but it obviously gives us a cushion.”

ODA looks beyond south-east firms

The ODA is hosting conferences about 2012 opportunities in Scotland and Wales to address fears that Olympics contracts will dominated by firms from London and the south-east.

Mr Armitt and ODA head of procurement Morag Stuart will attend an event next Wednesday in Perth.
A similar event is being held in Cardiff in the next few weeks.

Two further events are planned in Leeds at the end of the month and one in London during March.

The ODA has already hosted events across the country at locations including Bristol, Newcastle upon Tyne, Manchester and Birmingham. It has also held a meeting in Belfast and is considering one in Dublin.

Mr Armitt and the rest of the ODA hierarchy are keen to avoid accusations that work will be awarded to firms based in and around London.

He said: “At the moment, it is 50 per cent London and 50 per cent the rest of the country. In terms of procurement value I think it will tip slightly to the rest of the country.”

Analysis: When a deadline can prove fatal

By David Rogers

Clearly, over the next four years the ODA’s priority is getting the venues for 2012 built on time.

Budgets can be bust, jobs can suffer hiccups, workers can walk off but this is one of the few projects where an immovable deadline means precisely that.

Mr Armitt’s words are undoubtedly meant as a certain amount of arm-twisting - naturally the ODA wants the best teams building the Games - but he also knows a thing or two about building. His career has included a lengthy stint at Laing and the top job in Costain.

He mentioned Wembley - “there were own goals there which could have been avoided” - and by implication the damage it did to Multiplex’s reputation.

If ever a job has come up to top Wembley for high-profile, it’s this one. Which is why some projects have struggled for bidders.

But for those that take the job on, a repeat of Wembley, great stadium though it is, would be catastrophic.