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Letters: How we are boosting UK Plc

I was interested to read professor Bruce Tether’s very useful market report in the latest NCE Consultants File and was pleased to see that predicted workload for UK consultants seems to be improving in the UK, European Union and the rest of the world.

I noted in his last paragraph that he states: “Perhaps it is time for the industry to ask just how exactly the government plans to help [the engineering consultancy sector].”

In making this statement, I wondered if he was not familiar with the High Value Opportunities (HVO) Programme, a fl agship initiative by UK Trade & Investment (UKTI).

Doha

World of opportunity: Last year UK Trade&Investment helped British firms win global work worth £3bn

The programme identifi es large scale overseas infrastructure projects, selecting those that offer the most lucrative opportunities for UK companies across transport, energy, sports, healthcare, urban development and water & environment.

It began in April 2011 and currently includes some 50 projects. Interestingly, about half of these are in the growth areas of China, India, Middle East, Brazil and the US, especially identified by companies in the market report.

For each of these a project team is put together comprising UKTI sector and geographic focused personnel in the UK, UKTI staff in respective embassies/consulates and a business specialist such as myself, with some 40 years’ hands-on experience in international consulting.

The team obtains early intelligence, provides support with identifying in-market partners and facilitates access to decision makers. Ministers and other VIPs visiting countries are briefed on projects and are frequently involved in supporting UK company interests both with UK business delegations and for individual company bids where appropriate.

During the last financial year the programme has supported some £3bn of UK wins and it is being given additional funding to double the number of projects in the portfolio to some 100.

For further information on the HVO programme I would refer readers to www.ukti.gov.uk/uktihome but note that the list is currently being updated and expanded.

  • John Nutt, UKTI International Business Specialist, Sectors Group, UK Trade & Investment, 1 Victoria Street, London SW1H 0ET

 

The nitty gritty of bridge maintenance

I’ve read with interest the correspondence following my letter on the connection between flooding and the timing of maintenance of drainage systems (NCE 21 February) and note that it has changed into a discussion on who grits and who doesn’t and when.

Paul Hargreaves (NCE 7 March) very perceptively observes that I am neither a drainage engineer nor designer. However, no matter when drains were designed, or by whom, if water cannot enter the drainage system because of grit which may or may not have been spread, or the outfall to the system is blocked, or if the pipe taking the water in a ditch from one side of a fi eld entrance to the other is blocked, there’ll be flooding.

I have spent a large part of my career as a bridge engineer trying to direct water to where it will do the least harm and dealing with the consequences of those occasions where water has found its own routes, as it will, so am not unaware of the problems of drainage design.

I’ve also spent quite a bit of effort trying to persuade highway engineers that it is advantageous to avoid taking road drainage over a bridge deck where possible, to avoid the obvious problems of water flowing over bridge deck joints.

As I’m sure any bridge engineer will confirm, finding a bridge deck joint which does not leak after a fairly short space of time is to find the Holy Grail.

An aspect of the use of grit - where it is used - which is not commonly acknowledged is the damaging effect it has on joints of the Wabofl ex/Transfl ex type on longer-span bridges. This type of joint commonly fails by the bending and snapping of the holding-down bolts.

In my opinion, this arises because in the winter, when a bridge deck contracts, the joint is at its most open, and any detritus, including grit, fills up the trough in the deck joint from kerb to kerb. This is easily observable on any large road bridge.

As the temperature rises with the seasons the detritus is compacted and provides a solid mass against which the bridge deck pushes, instead of the gap in the deck joint closing as the designer intended. It is the force generated by this that causes the failure.

This again comes back to my original point that if things are maintained then they have a better chance of performing as intended.

I understand the difficulties of highway maintenance in today’s traffic conditions, and that decisions on what to do are based on a risk analysis, but surely maintaining something in its original designed condition is better than dealing with the consequences of deferring things till another time.

  • Alan Mordey (M), agmordey12@btinternet.com

 

Home in on more pressing priorities

With reference to your editorial comment and special report on the future of cities (NCE last week), in recent years it’s become clear that, for example, there’s no serious money yet for light rail in London while Crossrail is ongoing.

We’ve also seen that the timing of a pretty basic high speed rail scheme has to be defended in terms of not breaking the bank relative to Crossrail, whereas our French neighbours have already had high speed rail in place for a third of a century, and the Japanese have had their network for half a century.

As long as the powers-that-be in this country remain preoccupied with punching above our weight in foreign policy, and consequently can offer nothing more than words towards punching above our weight in domestic policy, we’ll have to continue to content ourselves with, at best, playing catch-up.

And as for narrowing the gap between rich and poor - forget it. Our current prime minister doesn’t deny the existence of society - unlike his counterpart of 30 years ago - but nor does he seem to have convincingly bought into the real and urgent priorities for that society which your editorial and report highlight.

  • Stewart Saunders (M), stewart.h.saunders@gmail.com

 

BIM can prove to be a burden for SMEs

The article “Construction strategy to embrace SMEs” (NCE 7 March) mentions linking public sector clients to SMEs and increasing Building Information Modelling (BIM) in public sector projects.

However, BIM can deter SME involvement because clients specify which CAD software to use. So if a small consultant works for various BIM clients, it must invest in a variety of software packages which all do the same thing) at greater expense than pre-BIM days when a consultant could use one package - often much cheaper for all work for all clients.

Similarly, BIM passes the document control role (and costs) from client to consultant. Gone are the days of sending paper prints - or PDFs on a CD - in the post. Now consultants must spend hours uploading files to clients’ slow and ergonomically-challenged websites. BIM does indeed offer benefits, but not (at present, anyway) for SMEs.

  • Giles Darling (M), giles54321@yahoo.co.uk

Allaying safety fears would help reduce emissions

With reference to John Thomas’s recent letter (NCE 21 March) discussing UK travel data and dismissing spatial planning, may I make the observation that in the UK two out of three journeys are already under 8km and currently in their vast majority done by car.

These distances could easily be travelled alternatively. Carbon dioxide could be reduced by around 7% of total emissions if we cycled like the Dutch or Danes. Not to mention wider health, social and environmental contributions a cycling nation would make.

We know that most don’t cycle due to safety concerns (Pooley, Horton, Journal of Transport Geography 2011). So for that to happen some road space would have to be given to cycling.

It is this I believe that makes unbelievers very fearful indeed, and the next thing I hear will now be about unsuitable culture, topography, and all the other myths and discriminations allowed to shroud cycling into a marginal existence in the UK.

Katja Leyendecker, leyendecker.katja@gmail.com

Readers' comments (1)

  • stephen gibson

    In recent years there has been an influx of internet based procurement databases. However, they are almost exclusively aimed at medium and large multinational consultants. In the last year I have yet to note a single proposal to employ a civil engineering consultant. Much of this is because the fees are usually going to be less than £10,000 and therefore most procurement managers don't put it on any system. They usually combine all the different professional trades - Architects/Civil/Structural/Electrical and Mechanical into one super contract or turn the project into a design and build contract.
    Most of the problem is how lazy and conservative procurement officers can be. The last of their concerns is value for money for the taxpayer. The often say they "don't have time" to tender, yet the private sector efficiently does so all the time. Everyone knows that the bigger the contract the less efficient the delivery is. One only needs to look at how efficient the private housing building industry is, against the inefficiency of the water and rail sector.
    I would like to see free and fair competition mandatory for all public sector contracts.

    Regards,

    Stephen Gibson
    www.wilsham.co.uk

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