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Large and small united for the Games

A major effort is being made to get smaller subcontractors involved in the Olympics

You may be a small company but do you want to go for gold? Over the past few months, the Olympic Delivery Authority has been on a charm offensive to woo contractors of all sizes.

Put simply, it wants to get SMEs in bed with tier one builders. “It’s a bit like a dating agency,” said Rob Knight, head of procurement at ODA partner CLM, addressing delegates at the 2012 Construction Commitments conference.

“We want to get you married and secure you a procurement opportunity.”

There are 2,000 Olympic contracts still up for grabs and the ODA will be awarding these in 2008, the year of its ‘big build’.

Half of the 500 contracts already let have gone to SMEs, and a good proportion to companies outside London. “They are spread across the UK,” says an ODA spokeswoman.

“You might only be able to provide part of [the work], but I would encourage you to approach us as a consortium,” says Mr Knight.

The ODA is launching an online tool specifically for the procurement of tier two contractors and beyond.

Tier one contractors will also set up microsites that will be part of the CompeteFor toolkit. This will launch in January. In the meantime, the ODA is encouraging smaller contractors to register interest and sign up for email alerts on its website.

Regional help

To win contracts, there will be a range of criteria to meet, but the ODA is offering to help companies through regional support organisations.

But won’t most tier one contractors already have supply chains in place?

Constructing Excellence chief executive Don Ward believes this may not always be the case. “The ODA has realised it’s a big challenge to work on,” he says.

Mr Knight hopes they will go online. “We’re asking tier one to build CompeteFor into their procurement. We recognise they have established supply chains, but we ask them to bring on their suppliers and take a look at the toolkit,” he says.

But Graham Watts, chief -executive of the Construction Industry Council, disagrees. “Any tier one contractor worth its salt will have a supply chain,” he says. “It’s a risk to experiment with a team that has never worked together. The system is a sort of enforced marriage.”

Vaughan Burnand, chief executive of one of the larger contractors, Shepherd Construction, thinks that while the website may help initially to make introductions, personal contact is crucial. “You want some kind of chat line or speed-dating with face to face contact,” he says.

But Mr Watts is positive good SMEs will be successful and thinks specialists are the way forward. “Most small businesses have to understand they will have a niche in part of the supply chain,” he says.
“The Olympics shouldn’t be the thing; they should be doing it anyway. Good SMEs can probably pick and choose the supply chain they work with.”

The CIC is a big supporter of the 2012 Construction Commitments, a set of targets developed by the Strategic Forum. Signing up to them could give a contractor an advantage.

“The commitments get to the heart of eliminating a problem. Project teams make up disparate groups of firms, too often having different opinions. If they apply to the Olympics they also apply to wider -construction,” says Trevor Hursthouse, chairman of M&E contractor Goodmarriott and Hursthouse and part of the 2012 Task Force.

“You’ve never seen so many people get a pad out and write ‘obligation’ as when Tessa -Jowell announced them.”

Not London-centric

Some SMEs are already chomping at the bit. “The bulk of our work is in London and the south-east anyway. You have to give London-based companies a run for their money,” says John Ashmore, managing director of Protectis, a lightning protection installation company based in Nottinghamshire.

ODA construction director Howard Shiplee insists the authority is serious about SMEs. “We want to be a good customer. We endeavour to be fair and transparent,” he says. “We look for value for money, not just the lowest price.

“For small businesses we are trying to make ourselves user-friendly. I’d like to encourage you to work for us. If you think we’re not performing, then you should come and tell us.”

As Mr Knight says: “It is huge for the country and we’re not going to be able to deliver it without you.”

Knight’s tips for success

Tips from the ODA’s Rob Knight on being an SME winner:

Get in the race

  • Download the ODA’s supplier guide.

  • Then register for the ODA’s email alerts at:

  • You will be emailed once the CompeteFor system is up and running when opportunities emerge from main contractors.

  • The ODA will then invite registered companies to apply for opportunities. Smaller companies can get help to meet the criteria from their Local Development Agency. Those who have qualified for other Government frameworks will be automatically selected.

  • Tenders will be invited and evaluated according to cost and delivering on time, as well as by critical success factors.

  • Constructing Excellence is running free 2012 Construction Commitments conferences in the north-west in January and Yorkshire and Humberside in February. Register at

  • Bovis Lend Lease has set up its own procurement website for the athletes’ village and is encouraging smaller contractors to sign up:

Download a set of PDF guides for conmpeteing for ODA projects by clicking the resource box at the bottom of the page.