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Major contractors group to support SMEs with online school

A group of major contractors is establishing an online “school” to help SMEs assess their sustainability credentials.

The idea was brought to the UK Contractors Group by Skanska and has been endorsed by the group and several major contractors including Lend Lease, Kier and Morgan Sindall.

Not-for profit group Action Sustainability is helping to develop the online portal, which will act as a resource for suppliers looking to self-assess their sustainability credentials and learn more about particular issues.

Funding negotiations are ongoing. The group is hoping to raise around £1 million and is understood to be negotiating with CITB-ConstructionSkills to come on board.

Skanska supply chain director Andrew MacAskill said: “It is a key business requirement within our internal corporate plan to establish this.

“The supply chain school will focus on sustainable credentials and will try to supply training solutions for individual suppliers to help them to fill capability gaps and improve on certain aspects.”

The portal will be free for supply chain members to use and anonymous so it will not affect contractors’ choice of supply chain members when subcontracting work.

Mr MacAskill said he hoped to see as many UK suppliers sign up to use the portal as possible when it launches in the second quarter of this year, and that sustainability performance continues to play an important role for SMEs trying to win work with Skanksa.

He added: “We spend about £1 billion each year in the UK with around 6,000 suppliers, of whom 50 per cent are SMEs. We test our supply chain on their ability to meet our sustainability requirements and if they start to deliver on those, that influences their ability to win contracts with us.”

Chief construction adviser Paul Morrell told CN the initiative was a wlecome one and said it was one of many initatives being taken by major contractors (see box).

Kieran Brocklebank, supply chain head at United Utilities, which is not part of the group establishing the portal, said the company wanted to cut down on the amount of information it demands from its supply chain.

“We have often asked for lots of information not knowing what we were going to do with it. We are now setting out a certain number of things to which our supply chain needs to respond,” he said.

United Utilities spends around £1bn each year on its improvement programme of which around two-thirds is on capital projects.

Signs that supply chains are still struggling to cope with low-carbon regulation increased this week after sustainable alliance the Aldersgate Group published a report, Building Britain: The Path to Sustainable Growth For The Built Environment, that stated that the industry’s prospects of decarbonising while remaining financially competitive are being hampered by a lack of clarity, consistency and effective enforcement.

Rob Lambe, managing director of Willmott Dixon’s Re-Thinking and Energy Services division, said the government was not doing enough to support the industry and stimulate demand.

“It can feel quite overwhelming when trying to work what the legislative framework looks like. I think the low-carbon agenda has been diluted and has, at best, moved slightly backwards in the past year or two, he said.

“There has been good progress in areas and a lot of overarching policy but there is a need now for quick wins.”

A draft vision for a low-carbon action plan will be published next month, according to the government’s chief construction adviser, Paul Morrell.

Following the Innovation and Growth Team’s Low Carbon Construction report in November 2010, Mr Morrell has been selected by the Green Construction Board to publish a low-carbon action plan this year.

Construction News revealed details of the Green Construction Board working groups and action plans earlier this month.

Mr Morrell hopes to release the completed document in November to coincide with the end of his three-year term as chief construction adviser.

CN understands the plan will look at the current regulatory framework; existing government or industry plans including the Carbon Plan and Green Deal; addressing shortages in skills and training; and business drivers for new products and services.

 It will also examine new research, whether further trials are needed from existing research and the development of tools and methodologies for example to calculate whole life costs.

Mr Morrell told an Aldersgate Group event on Tuesday that the “problem of complexity” is still a major issue within the industry.

“Confidence in the marketplace has not got a lot better but the government can’t make a plan on its own, it doesn’t know enough and it needs industry collaboration to inform the government about its ability to achieve,” he said.

“Let’s try and get just ahead of the competition.

“There is no prize for decarbonising the UK 10 years ahead of everyone else, but the real prize is in showing the UK can decarbonise itself.”

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