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Painful lessons of North Sea alliancing

Letters

I feel the need to respond to the observation on the comparison between the oil and rail industries' preparedness to get into alliancing (NCE 3 February). My company helped Shell launch its drilling, maintenance and engineering partnerships/alliances in the early 1990s. In fact, we were the first company to deliver drilling partnership strategies in the North Sea.

Let me tell you, if ever a sector was undeveloped in terms of managing relationships it was the North Sea oil industry - with the honourable exceptions of BP and Chevron. The command and control mentality of the operators was and, in some cases is, still chronic. As one exhausted contractor said to me after a year of so-called partnering: 'This has been the worst 18 months of my life.'

The client organisation (operator), on the other hand, had no idea of the confusion and pain it was causing.

The UK oil industry did not work on alliancing for 20 years, in contrast to the US in the Gulf. It was, in relationship terms, an immature industry, until the CRINE initiative began to make an impact about five years ago.

Despite these unpromising beginnings there have been some extraordinary successes, because of the patience and persistence of the contractors and because of the courage and determination of some wonderful, but unrecognised, middle managers among the operators.

The NAM GO initiative in Holland delivered 31% savings in 18 months. Amec set up a superbly productive maintenance relationship with Shell in Lowestoft, under some very difficult conditions, and the Brent field scored notable triumphs through partnering, despite the almost active non co-operation from top management. The world-class alliancing project today is the £800m Shearwater Alliance run by an outstanding Shell manager, which is a model of its kind for usingco-operative relationships successfully to deliver innovative, high risk projects.

One final point - what made it really difficult in the case of the oil operators, was the complete absence of any customer focus whatsoever. All the effort was directed upstream or at the regulator. This created a self-centred, low risk culture, which meant a total lack of empathy with the contractors who had learned, for the most part, to be very customer and needs-focused. Consequently, the whole idea of helping the other party meet their needs (which underpins any co-operative relationship) was as foreign an idea to the operator as women priests in the Vatican.

The message for Railtrack is simply to first become more customer-focused, despite all the regulatory pressures, and this will really help you to develop the culture that makes alliancing pay off early and easily. Then the train operators, as well as your contractors and suppliers, will help you succeed in your task of continuous improvement, because no-one will profit unless the whole system works.

John Carlisle, John Carlisle Partnerships, Broom Hall,8-10 Broomhall Road, Sheffield S10 2DR

Improve roads before charging

Both contributors to your debate on road pricing (NCE 3 February) ignored the simple truth that too little is being done to manage our roadsat present using existing legislation. Unless and until this issue is addressed, all the proposals for introducing road pricing and parking place tolls are doomed to failure.

The key areas that need to be addressed by central and local government are:

the control/elimination of obstruction of roads;

better planning and control of all works affecting roads;

rigorous enforcement of parking and loading restrictions.

All these activities are covered by existing legislation, yet daily we see builders' skips and materials occupying road space, reducing capacity and impeding traffic movement, particularly for buses and cyclists. We see roadworks starting during the peak periods and frequently being left unattended for prolonged periods. Both local authorities and public utilities are guilty of this. Also, if we want to have better traffic flow, we must have and accept rigorous enforcement of waiting and loading restrictions.

Finally, we need to use the space gained by better management of the road network to improve bus reliability and attractiveness, and further increase the swing to public transport by trip end restraint.

R F V Aylott (F), 5 Barnfield Road, St Albans, Hertfordshire AL4 9UF

CDM rules ARE way forward

Michael Reid's attitude to CDM (NCE letters, 3 February) is dismayingly unbelievable. I work for a client organisation as engineer and planning supervisor on small works projects and I have experienced the benefits of CDM at alllevels from conception to commissioning.

I know several small contracting companies of no more than 15 employees who take CDM on board as a matter of course and accept it as the way forward. When the people on the ground agree that CDM makes for a safer working environment you know that the message is getting through.

If Mr Reid cannot cope with safety legislation I would suggest that he consider a career change. His company will certainly not be invited to work for me whilst his attitude prevails.

Lee Holland (AM), Barton House, 29 Monmouth Road, Abergavenny, Monmouthshire NP7 5HP

Less paperwork, more site visits

The article about John Anderson's views on the effectiveness of the CDM regulations (NCE 20 January) rings like an echo to me. I have preached ad nauseam about the ineffectiveness of our safety regulations here in Ireland which are nothing but a paperwork exercise with no significant improvement in safety standards.

I work for several small developers constructing schemes of anything between two to 20 dwellings. These form part of larger schemes wherein my clients would buy a few of the sites.

As such, the responsibility falls on me to ensure thatthe health and safety documentation is in place from the point of view of my clients. On purchasing the sites, we are normally furnished with a preliminary safety statement by the overall developer of the larger scheme. This can be as much as 49 pages of irrelevant guidelines dealing with, for example, working with compressed air in deep foundations, and repairs to steel offshore structures.

In order to ensure that there is even an outside chance that my client or his employees might read a health and safety plan, I produce for my client companies a three page, project-specific plan, along with a one page letter to my client's health and safety co-ordinator for the construction stage advising him of his duties. One of those duties is to ensure that every employee receives a copy of the health and safety plan and signs for it.

Even at three pages, I still doubt if anybody reads the plan. But it cuts down an enormous amount of paperwork, and satisfies the regulations for as little as £100 per house.

This £100 is, as far as I am concerned, a complete waste. It would be far better to add a similar amount to planning or building control fees and for that money to be used by the Health & Safety Authority to employ more inspectors with the target of visiting every site at least once. Then I think there might be some hope of improving site safety and reducing the number of accidents.

Bryan Egan (G), eganeng@iol.ie

Is the EngC on another planet?

I was most interested to read that 74% of chartered civil engineers under 30 earn less than £25,000 (NCE 3 February).

Based on the Engineering Council's published average pay of £44,000 for chartered engineers, the average salary of those over 30 would be circa £63,000. Another point of interest is that if so many of us civil engineers are well below the EngC average, then there must be an abundance of chartered engineers earning considerably more than £44,000.

I suggest that another question be added to the EngC's salary surveys, which simply says 'Planet?'.

Peter Carroll(M) Herne Hill, London. Peter.Carroll@tesco.net

Spellcheck your essays

Low standards of English should not be tolerated. However, the tools of the trade include computers so why not let the Professional Review essays be written using a laptop with its spelling and grammar correction systems? We don't do calculations with slide rules anymore.

Frank Chesworth, fchesworth@aol.com

Kielder could solve problem

With so much opposition to the siting of new reservoirs on lowland fertile valleys, why not take a different approach?

The largest man made lake in Europe, the Kielder Reservoir, is still underused as a water resource. Why not build a trunk main from Kielder, following the route of the A1 south?

There are many advantages: little land take, few visible structures and low energy requirements as transportation would be mainly through gravity and the use of siphons. Water companies could draw off and mix with their own supplies. In the drier East, this would dilute the nitrate content, balance peak demands and tackle local droughts.

In the longer term branches could supply Herts, Beds and Bucks as well as the South East.

LI Uncles, Beech Cottage, Water Street, Ilminster, Somerset TA19 0QH

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