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Getting procurement right is vital to Crossrail’s success

Comment: Antony Oliver, Editor of the year

This week’s award of the £100M Crossrail programme partner contract to the Anglo-American Transcend consortium was without question a major event for UK design and civil engineering.

After three decades of planning, the award signals the long awaited start of this £16bn project and brings a tangible sense of reality to this hitherto project of dreams. I use the phrase “UK design and civil engineering” very deliberately and regardless of the parentage of parts of the victorious consortium.

Over the next eight years the project will inject vital energy into the UK construction industry across the entire supply chain. Success will rely on it being delivered by the very best skills that the global engineering community has to offer.

So while it was, of course, disappointing that award of the £400M project delivery partner contract has been delayed, and while there has been much speculation about the precise reasons for this, the big picture must surely be to ensure that Crossrail collects the best skills to create the best team. For it cannot be stressed enough how vitally important it is for Crossrail and for the whole UK civil engineering industry that this procurement process is successful.

It cannot be stressed enough how vitally important it is for Crossrail and that this whole procurement process is successful

And while the award of any public contract worth £400M will attract a certain amount of politics, what remains absolutely vital is that the best skills, the best engineering and the best relationships are employed to deliver this world class project on time and to budget.

Getting the procurement right on such major publicly funded infrastructure projects is critical. Get it right and the project is set up for success. Get it wrong and the knock on effect will be felt beyond the Crossrail project out into the whole of the UK economy. Because hard though it perhaps is for those living outside London to truly appreciate, the start of the Crossrail project and the successful involvement of these global firms in the capital will be a major leg-up for the whole UK economy.

Crossrail is the biggest construction project in Europe and will generate 14,000 jobs over the next decade. It will also help to regenerate some of the most deprived areas in the UK.

By 2017, Crossrail’s 24 trains an hour east to west across central London will be the driving force of the south east’s economic growth. So while many boardrooms are waiting expectantly and increasingly impatiently for the Crossrail project delivery partner decision, now is not the time to rush it through. Now is the time for Crossrail to make the right decision. For the sake of UK civil engineering and the UK economy Crossrail must have the best at the helm. Get it wrong and the Crossrail dream will swiftly turn into the nightmare.

  • Antony Oliver is NCE’s editor

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