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How to address supply chain issues in the UK

21 August 2023

Past ICE Wales Cymru chair Ken Evans shares how effective communication could help ease pressures in the industry.

How to address supply chain issues in the UK
Supply chain pressures are being felt throughout the industry. Image credit: Shutterstock

The pressures and issues that have hindered the delivery of projects in the UK over the last few years are well known to all involved in the civil engineering industry.

The impact that Brexit has had on construction material availability is evident.

The ongoing war in Ukraine currently impacts the cost and available quality of bitumen, which is crucial for the sustainability of pavements, particularly with the onset of climate change.

Then there’s the lack of young people entering the industry, which is putting a strain on the workforce.

Finally, the overall rising cost of construction materials, which at one point seemed to rise daily.

Let’s be honest, all contractors have to navigate a broad sphere of issues that constantly keeps them on their toes - but 2023 is delivering a whole raft of them.

Struggling with tendering

Possibly the biggest issues being faced by our industry are the ongoing challenges of supply chain costs and labour shortages.

These are leading to more pressure when tendering for work.

While costs may have stabilised somewhat, problems have been severe, and this has had a huge impact on tender pricing.

For example, the supply trade is still unsure about what prices to quote for materials, as by the time a tender is submitted the prices have invariably risen.

This situation in turn raises issues when completing a tender.

Add the time pressure...

Numerous suppliers now need to be approached for quotes in order to get competitive prices.

Previously, when costs were more stable, you could approach one favoured supplier, knowing you were already getting a competitive price.

This process now adds more complexity onto tenders, ramping up the pressure to complete a tender on time, while clients have to meet funding deadlines from outside bodies.

This issue also affects retendering.

Supply chain costs will no doubt have risen from the costs quoted for the original tender, making retendering more problematic.

Time for change

Public procurement is in for a big shake-up!

In Wales, the new Social Partnership and Public Procurement (Wales) Bill is making its way through the Senedd and will see the establishment of a Social Partnership Council.

In England, the Procurement Bill is undertaking a similar journey through Parliament.

Businesses involved in winning public contracts will need to familiarise themselves with the Common Assessment Standard.

This is an industry-led pre-qualification system covering a range of compliance topics from health and safety to modern slavery and corruption.

There will also be building safety reforms following the introduction of the Building Safety Act in 2022.

And, social value, quite rightly, will take on more and more prominence with a more person-centred focus being demanded.

This will result in genuine, tangible impact and community legacy.

There is a way forward for everyone

Communication and collaboration

To help overcome supply chain issues there needs to be greater communication via workshops and round table discussions.

These must include all potential partners, from contractors and local authorities to frameworks and education providers.

Only through collaboration will there be understanding of supply chain challenges that have a huge knock-on effect on project timings and delivery.

Recruitment in focus

Reinforcing this should be renewed focus on education providers and case studies, highlighting companies who have successfully attracted the next generation into civil engineering.

They should be encouraged to explain how they managed to recruit, what they got right, what not to do, and so on.

Educational establishments should also be supported in getting the right messages across to students.

Getting the terms right

There needs to be better focus on risk allocation within projects.

It’s crucial that terms and conditions reflect specific situations on each project, so everyone is aware of the issues, and responsibilities.

This isn’t rocket science.

Unless there’s greater communication between clients and contractors, supply chain issues will continue to hamper project delivery and costs.

Ultimately, that benefits nobody.

  • Ken Evans, past chair of ICE Wales Cymru and operations director at Centregreat