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Tideway contractors should set feminist example

Mark Hansford

A string of household names in the UK contracting market was named this week as preferred bidders for the £4.2bn Thames Tideway Tunnel civils packages. It is surely a ringing endorsement of the capability of the UK construction industry to deliver major infrastructure projects.

That is certainly how project boss Andy Mitchell pitched it, setting out his organisation’s “absolute faith” in the preferred bidders’ ability to carry out these major pieces of work “safely, considerately and sustainably”.

It’s a great opportunity for these firms - Bam Nuttall, Morgan Sindall, Balfour Beatty, Ferrovial, Laing O’Rourke, Costain, Vinci, Bachy Soletanche - to really show what the industry can do.

As Mitchell says: “this is not just an engineering project”. It is, he adds, a unique opportunity to be involved in improving London’s environment. It is also a massive skills development opportunity.

The Thames Tideway Tunnel project will create more than 4,000 direct jobs, with another 5,000 jobs created through the supply chain. It will be offering hundreds of apprenticeships and work placements, is committed to employing local people, and will be creating a never before seen surge in the river economy through marine employment opportunities.

Lee Tunnel

Mitchell has already told NCE how he is determined that the project will genuinely tackle diversity, with a target for a gender-equal workforce by the time the project is complete in 2023.

It’s a fantastic aspiration but a heck of a challenge - and he’ll need the full support of his supply chain - led by his newly-named lead contractors - to deliver this.

So this seems like the perfect moment to once again lay down the gauntlet to those at the helm of these eight engineering giants. Join Mitchell in declaring yourselves feminists in the pages of NCE. Make the statement so that others in your organisation and in your supply chain see how serious you are about equality.

To say you are feminist is a simple statement that you support equal opportunities on the grounds of gender. That is all.

And yes, it is just a statement. But it is a statement that sends a powerful message. It tells everyone that this industry is serious about tackling inequality and that it is serious about making it an environment suitable for anyone, regardless of gender.

It is also, importantly, another shot in the arm to those of you who still fail to grasp why this is an issue; why this industry should be accessible - desirable even - to all. And if you question that there are those that do, our letters page this week will make interesting reading.

We really do still have a long way to go here. So let’s use the Thames Tideway Tunnel as a real exemplar. And it starts now, with the people at the top. I look forward to hearing from them.

  • Mark Hansford is NCE’s editor

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