Construction News

Tue May 26 2020

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The pros of getting specialist contractors in early

23 Feb 12 Involving specialist contractors like piling firms early in a project would make for a more efficient delivery, argues Bachy Soletanche director Chris Merridew.

With the continuing global financial difficulties and constraints on government spending, there has been and will continue to be pressure on investment in infrastructure projects.

However there has been a welcome increase in rail and light rail projects. We are also seeing a geographical change in workload towards the south and in the capital especially.

With the continuing drive for further savings on both road and rail schemes, better delivery could be achieved through Early Contractor Involvement (ECI) being extended to specialist contractors.

Large number of stakeholders

Due to the rigorous design approvals process required for major road and rail schemes, often involving a number of stakeholders prior to appointment of specialist contractors, value-engineering opportunities are limited, post contract award.

Further gains could be delivered if a vehicle could be found to allow Early Specialist Contractor Involvement.

This would obviously need to avoid reducing any commercial advantages for the client and main contractor in competitive bidding. It would also allow for greater opportunity in innovative solutions to be offered by the specialist contractor. This would encourage new investment in innovation because of the certainty of award and the longer lead in times ultimately leading to delivering sustainable, environmental, programme and/or cost benefits to the project.


As with most things, preparation is key: collaboration with and understanding of the client needs comes hand in hand with the longer lead times. With an all too frequent reduction in grants and schemes often being deferred, value engineering ought to be a popular option but the debate is whether, by allowing early contractor involvement, the client creates risk in respect of cost and eliminates competitive pricing, or whether it does, in fact, provide a more cost-effective, sustainable and robust programme. We support the latter case.

Programmes can be very challenging with pressure from multiple sub contractors working concurrently on ever smaller footprints. Early involvement by all will reduce programme risk and increase safety between trades.

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Long-term benefits

Despite being in an uncertain economic climate with continued talks of cuts and double dip recessions, there is a lot of potential for the construction industry to thrive and for innovations to be introduced to the long-term benefit of all parties involved, if greater involvement in the initial stages is made possible. There are several factors that need to be taken into consideration before any kind of early relationship is agreed upon:

  • Specialist contractor selection. The specialist contractor should be chosen depending on their technical expertise, innovative ideas, ability to add and deliver value, access to plant and machinery, and on the basis that, where possible, costs can been agreed early.
  • Certainty of designs and surety of the prices. This ensures that the specialist contractor has the skills to deliver the design, whilst allowing for a substantial involvement in the design process. By investing in sub contractors’ involvement, robust solutions can be provided allowing the sub contractor to invest in the right people for the project.
  • Agreed timescales. A pre-agreed schedule is crucial – for both value engineering input and deliverables from other contractors and sub contractors.

The early creation of the delivery team also allows for better risk management and forward planning of work programmes and resources and is suggested by The Highways Agency as one of ten principles for the delivery of best value.

The understanding of the specialist contractor in the entire process of a scheme, from planning, estimating and assessing buildability through to value engineering and design approvals, should not be underestimated. Not only is this knowledge key, but the impact it can have on sustainability is priceless. Innovation works best when you have a problem to solve knowing your client’s needs. Very few speculative innovations fully match your client’s requirements.

Environmental impact

Care of our environment and the management of our natural resources has and will continue to be a great concern to us all. It is only by assessing the impact in the early stages of road and rail schemes, that we, as specialist contractors, can play our part in reducing any impact through innovation.

By using our carbon calculator, for example, we can compare the various geotechnical solutions to demonstrate the sustainable benefits of these long-term schemes.

We have been able to identify that, depending on the technique and project scope, between 70-90% of a contract geotechnical works’ carbon footprint arises from the use of concrete and steel. Therefore any measures that can help to reduce this will help sustainability and have economic and environmental benefits. Providing a comparison between schemes offered to clients to promote not only the cost savings of designs but the environmental benefits too, these decisions need to be made early on so that they can be fed into the design process.

Summary of ECI benefits:

  • The early creation of a delivery team – with everyone involved from the outset, risk management is improved.
  • There is more scope for innovation because the contractors can feed into the plans from the beginning.
  • By contributing to a project sooner safety can be improved by designing out safety risks.
  • The supply chain is integrated, more sustainable and managed better.
  • Quality is high when all parties have a say in the design and selection of suppliers.
  • The co-operative/partnership approach means there is a clear allocation of responsibilities and understanding of the end target.

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