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Changes for the better

Preview; Morrison will be one exhibitor at Pipelines 2000 which is running alongside Interbuild at the NEC, Birmingham from May 21 to 25. Kristina Smith takes a look at the contractor's work for Transco, part of a five-year, £150 million deal which starte

IN THEIR bright red overalls and hi-vis waistcoats, Morrison's two-man pipe-laying team working on Effra Road in Brixton, South London, looks frighteningly tidy.

It emerges that the clothes are in fact brand new in honour of Construction News' visit, but the professional look is no deception.

Professionalism is important on a job like this. Ganger - or rather 'team leader' - Andy Kear has a lot of responsibility; organising the traffic management, maintaining quality and keeping records to name but a few.

The project involves the repair or renewal of a 351-mm diameter gas main along the length of a busy road in Brixton's one-way system.

It is part of two contracts Morrison has won with Transco - South-East and South-West London - worth £150 million over the next five years.

Labour is a key part of the agreement.

The numbers available are finite so the ones Morrison has have to be carefully managed.

'Gas certified operatives are a valuable asset,' says Adam Gos-nold, a director of Morrison's Southern Region.

Transco's approach has chan-ged, becoming less prescriptive and more performance-based, says Mr Gosnold.

'They [Transco] have moved away from talking about numbers of men and teams, to saying 'this is the amount of work we need to do this year'.

'We've been looking at innovation and better ways of working, rather than just throwing men at it,' he said.

The ability to look at faster ways of working, new materials and no-dig technology was important for Morrison when going for these packages of work.

But Mr Gosnold believes that the real reason why the firm was successful this time - it has missed some contracts with Transco - was its understanding of Tran-sco's business needs and how a contractor would help to meet them.

Customer focus is the message from Morrison now, following a reorganisation of its business into development, construction and asset management.

Within the £100 million utilities section of asset management, directors are aligned with certain customers.

Mr Gosnold, for example, is responsible for Thames Water and Southern Water.

Other utilities clients on Morrison's list include Essex & Suffolk Water, Eastern Electricity, Yorkshire Water, Anglian Water and Scottish Water. It also carries out one-off contracts, like erecting towers for the telecommunication firms.

To win the two contracts with Transco, Morrison had to show its commitment to a number of things.

Health and safety came at the top of the list, together with maintaining the integrity of Transco's network.

Environmental issues are key, as Transco goes for ISO 14001 accreditation, something which Morrison's civils business has already won and the rest of the group is chasing.

Price was of course a key consideration - not just giving a good one, but proving that it was robust, says Mr Gosnold.

And the ability to mobilise the necessary resources between November, when the contracts were awarded, and January when work started.

Area operations manager Dave Coomber spent that period assembling a 200- strong workforce plus 70 administrative and management staff in order to get going.

This recruitment drive has continued in 2000, with numbers now standing at 400 operational people and 100 staff.

There are 39 staff on leak duty, responding to calls from the public. Transco has some directly employed staff who deal with domestic jobs, but Morrison's agreement means that they must be ready to do this work if there is a glut of calls.

When asked if finding operatives has been a struggle, Mr Coomber replies: 'I have an old face.'

In other words the secret for sourcing people is knowing people in the area, a network of contacts to call on.

All the team leaders must be NRSWA (New Roads and Street Works Act) accredited, and for Transco the operatives must have GD1 (Gas Distribution level 1), which involves a one-day course covering basic health and safety.

The team leaders are responsible for keeping records of activ-ities on site on a daily basis.

Some of this information goes into what Mr Gosnold describes as Transco's 'extensive performance management system'.

Areas measured include productivity, quality of work, speed of response to customer complaints, stock control.

The Brixton job, now into its seventh week, has been mostly manned by two people.

Mr Kear and his operative have been working down the road in 60 m stretches which is the maximum length allowed.

There is no option for no-dig here either since the ground under the road is thick with pipes and cables, which the gas main must be threaded around.

There are still a few weeks to go, with the final stretch seeing the trench crossing a crossroads with traffic lights.

The traffic management for this section had to be agreed with both the police and the local authorities; for the standard sections, the team leader organises the lay out.

This last period will be a tricky one, predicts Mr Kear, as all the traffic is channelled into just one lane. Much of it will have to be done on Sundays.

No doubt this will lead to a certain amount of abuse for Mr Kear and his colleague.

Drivers have grown more impatient over the last 15 years while he has been in the trench-digging game.

This does not phase him: he claims to have a thick skin.

It is probably just as well, because however professional the workers may look, people will always get riled when their journey is disrupted by holes in the road.