British Waterways is seeking to establish more partnering arrangements with its contractors and consultants and several are being trialled on projects around the country.
It is working with contractor Alun Griffiths on the Kennet & Avon restoration and with Morrison Construction on the Falkirk Wheel Millennium Link.
'And we are hoping to extend those arrangements with larger programmes in the next two or three months,' says British Waterways operations director Stewart Sim. Generally, these will be open book arrangements for a minimum of three years with joint client/contractor teams established for the work and shared savings incentives.
Partnering is all about working together in the most efficient way possible. But the concept of best value on heritage canal projects can be different to fast track building schemes. The idea of bulk-bought material to be used, say, for embankment coping throughout the country, is not what BW is looking for. The organisation is trying to preserve the uniqueness of each waterway and what is most valuable is a knowledge of local materials and local sources of supply, an empathy with the waterways and an understanding of the complex logistics and access problems of working on a linear site.
'Partnering requires a huge culture change for our contractors and for us,' says Sim. 'But there have been enormous benefits, particularly in start up times. As long as the right people are in place and they believe in what they are doing it is excellent. But it definitely helps if you have worked on the canals before.'
To aid those contractors with a less than thorough knowledge of the techniques required to retain a 200 year old canal network, British Waterways is opening an in house heritage training centre in March at Hatton near Warwick.
'We'll be encouraging all our contractors to send their staff on courses there,' says Sim.
Total expenditure on the waterways for 1999/2000 is £90M, of which £24M is on major projects. This includes £12M on the safety related backlog (up £8M thanks to extra Government Grant) and £60M on Lottery and other partnership projects.