Outsourcing predicted to increase during AMP3

In an interview with WWT, Bruno Speed, director of Miller Water, makes clear his views on the future of contracting in the water industry and predicts that in the AMP3 period from 2000-2005, even more work will be outsourced by the plcs.

WWT: How do partnering and framework agreements work?

Mr Speed: Originally partnering was about working as a team. As a

contractor, you gave them a figure for your profit and overheads and then

discussions where held regarding some of the more peripheral issues.

Most water companies are now moving towards partnering in some form,

although Southern have turned back towards a more traditional approach since

being bought by Scottish Power ­ despite being the first to develop


Yorkshire Water has been running a selected list of contractors throughout

AMP2. All of its major schemes over £2M have effectively had a list of nine

contractors. There were always three on any one list, so effectively three

could bid for each contract, ensuring a competitive element.

Thames Water is also moving towards the framework approach on a regional


South West Water runs what the industry generally terms as Œfull’

partnering. South West has identified three civils contractors, three

process contractors and three consultants.

From this, South West then selects a team to build a project. It then sets a

budget for the project and everybody buys into it, including South West.

So, each party establishes the costs, with the aim being to undercut the

budget. Everyone stands and falls together ­ in this case it’s not down to

each partner, but how the whole team performs.

WWT: So what we have in effect is the concept of end-product delivery. The

plc sets the budget, chooses the team and tells them to go away and build

it. A big change from the old Œengineer, procure, contract’ (EPC) method?

Mr Speed: Yes. And at South West it means that the contractor is more

involved with feasibility and pre-design work, and therefore has a greater

opportunity to make cost savings.

WWT: What are the advantages and disadvantages of partnering for you as a


Mr Speed: For us, it helps to minimise confrontation on site. And it helps

avoid the Œ¹lowest price wins’ approach, once common in the water industry.

The other main advantage is that it establishes long-term relationships.

For instance, at South West, we’ve just finished a job at Plymouth and

started one at Torbay with the same project manager. By working in this way,

teams get to know each other.

One difficulty that water companies often have is how to demonstrate the

actual monetary value of partnering.

South West, however, has managed to compare the average overrun costs on

partnering with traditional EPC projects ­ and found that partnering offers

better value for money.

WWT: How will the change from AMP2 to AMP3 affect partnering arrangements?

Mr Speed: Water companies are increasingly looking at framework agreements

because of the change. The AMP2 period was characterised by large, specific

schemes. Smaller projects will dominate AMP3, but there will be a lot more

of them.

One of the problems the plcs will have is how to administer lots of small

projects. Either they can use smaller contractors or they can group work

together for the bigger contractors.

WWT: Given this change, what is Miller Water¹s strategy over the next five


Mr Speed: We have recently formalised our M&E structure, and appointed a new


We now have a very strong M&E capability and will be able to offer clients a

full service within the context of a framework agreement. We can now get rid

of the interface between M&E and civils and manage the whole project.

That¹s how we¹ve structured our business for the future. There are, however,

areas which we will not deal with, like utility work, pipelaying and mains


WWT: What is the biggest problem facing contractors in the UK at the moment?

Mr Speed: The downturn in workload in other sectors has forced other

contractors to focus on the water industry.

So one of the main difficulties we have is the number of players in the

market ­ a proliferation of contractors has meant that clients can get a

very reasonable price.

The other main issue is the five-year cycle typically seen in the water

industry. At the start of AMP2, there was a drop-off in work as the water

companies attempted to reduce costs. This drop has been followed by a

Œworkload overheat’ leading up to 2000. Ofwat is clearly concerned about

this trend, and in AMP3, hopes to force the water companies to take a more

holistic view of the five-year period.

WWT: What is the biggest single change likely to affect the water industry

when the price review is completed?

Mr Speed: Almost certainly it will be how the water companies manage to

achieve the savings they are set for AMP3.

A lot of them do not do the design and build work anymore, and so other than

the customer interface, outsourcing would make sense. You could also begin

to ask whether In the future, a water company’s core business may well be to

sell water, with O&M taking more of a back seat.

Contractors have often been asked to maintain a project for a year or two

after completion, and it would not be too great step for them to maintain it

for 20 years ­ or even indefinitely.

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