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Playing to win – Nobles Construction

Tuesday November 3rd, 2009

By John Watson, Director at Nobles Construction

John Watson, Director at Nobles Construction, Merseyside’s largest independent construction company, speaks to GO about the firm’s biggest education contract win to date.

Q What does your contract with All Saints Catholic Primary School involve?

A We were appointed by Tuneside to build a new state-of-the-art primary school, to increase capacity, reduce the carbon footprint and create an environment to maintain optimum performance levels throughout the school day.

Sustainable features include solar panels, ground source heating and grass roof sedum insulation to generate power and conserve energy. The school is efficient in terms of space and land usage and its position reduces seasonal heating and the cooling impact.

Facilities also include 14 classrooms, an ITC centre, a multi-use hall, retractable classroom walls and a new purpose-built playing field.

Q What is the contract worth and how long is it for?

A The contract was worth £6 million and took 69 weeks to complete. That said, we continue to visit the site, as we have an excellent relationship with the school and continue to do work on smaller tasks as and when they need us.

Q What are the main differences between working for public sector and private sector clients?

A The tendering process is far more stringent when dealing with public sector clients. There are a lot of procedures to follow and adhere to, from the original tender to contract bid and deployment.

Decisions take longer to make and far more consideration is given to every stage of negotiation and communication, which is to be expected when dealing with public money.

The tendering and pitch process is far less rigorous with private sector clients; decisions are made much quicker and involve fewer people. Also, we tend to win a lot of private work based on reputation and recommendation, avoiding the pitch process.

Q How were considerations on key public procurement issues such as sustainability, ethics and value for money taken into account in your bid?

A In recent years, sustainability and corporate social responsibility have become hot topics in construction and we have adapted and developed our well-established systems and procedures to suit. For sustainability, we always try and seek materials and subcontractors who can bring something to the table, be it a more environmentally friendly construction technology or an organisation with active apprenticeship schemes, for example.

Of course, value for money still has a major say in who ultimately wins a bid, and we like to think our trusted supply chain give us the edge when it comes to value for money, quality and health and safety.

Q What were the greatest challenges you encountered in the tendering process?

A As an SME, the greatest difficulty we face is competing with some of the massive national and international construction companies on schemes where pre-qualification exists. The larger organisations tend to have entire departments devoted to pre-qualification and marketing activities, whereas at Nobles everyone plays a part in developing our submission documents. While this can add workload to people on top of their normal day jobs, it also ensures that each bid we make is unique and tailored to the client’s requirements and doesn’t feel like a slightly amended standard corporate brochure.

Q What advice would you give to others embarking on a public sector contract?

A When working alongside schools it is important to approach the job from the client’s perspective – completing the project on time and within budget is absolutely paramount, as delays may mean education and learning standards fall.

Schools are at the heart of our communities and the work you do impacts on everyone, from residents to pupils and parents. It is vital all stakeholders are informed at every stage of development and excellent communication is maintained. How you manage the build while delivering sustainable best practice solutions must be conveyed to the client from the outset.

Q What feedback have you received from the client?

A The feedback has been fantastic. We had an exceptional working relationship with the client, which allowed us to make alterations and have input on design to ensure the school is 100 per cent conducive to learning.

A German delegation visited the school recently and said nothing compared to it in Germany. Additionally, the headmaster has said the new facilities have had an instrumental effect on students, with pupils eager to learn and no records of misbehaviour.

Q Is there anything you would like to see changed in the tendering process?

A I do not think I would be alone in wishing track record and customer satisfaction was pushed further up the judging agenda.

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