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Doing the best job means going global to get the best

So three American firms have now been put in charge of the design and construction of the £15.9bn Crossrail project.

And France’s EDF this week renewed its commitment to building the UK a new generation of nuclear power stations by 2017.  Does it really matter that UK firms are not leading these initiatives?    

Well according to many in the industry the answer is yes. Anecdotally we are told that awarding such important contracts undermines the ability of our home-grown talent.    

Building on the platform of the “British jobs for British workers” row, there is even real fear that it might undermine the government’s recession busting plan to pump cash into infrastructure. By failing to ensure that UK firms win the lion’s share of this public investment cash, it is said, we could jeopardise the skills base of the nation and our ability to work our way back into the black.     

Rubbish. For all the emotive talk about now being the critical moment to invest in UK talent, the world has moved on from such protectionist practice. It has had to.    

What is really important for the UK and the UK taxpayer is that the best firms and the best people are employed

Because whether we are talking about a new underground railway, a nuclear power station fleet, road scheme or reservoir, what is really important for the UK and the UK taxpayer is that the best firms and the best people are employed.     

And as Bechtel Crossrail project delivery manager Cliff Mumm makes clear this week,  we are in a global construction industry involving global firms and global people. That means when US based firms like his work in the UK they employ the best UK based engineers possible.  The result is that only four of the current 92 Bechtel staff on Crossrail are from the US and it is a similar story with Transcend where the vast bulk of CH2M Hill and Aecom staff are also UK based.    

It works both ways of course. UK based firms such as Halcrow, Mott MacDonald and Arup work all around the world employing locally based talent. As a quick scan through last month’s NCE Consultants File will confirm, all of these firms have seen their overseas workload soar to approaching or beyond 50% of total turnover.     

EDF chief executive Vincent da Rivaz was equally robust about the folly of the UK infrastructure industry getting hung up on this global issue. Delivery of a new generation of nuclear power was about long term business and not about parachuting skills in. As such it is a massive opportunity to develop the local supply chain and a massive opportunity to grow the UK’s skills base.     

So forget about such nationalistic protectionist nonsense. Infrastructure development is key to the economic rescue package and will be delivered by the best teams available. Being part of it means being with the best. n Antony Oliver is NCE’s editor   


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