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Wed May 29 2024

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Why I spoke out, by the man that banned Balfour Beatty

15 Dec 12 This week Steve Sutherland, the owner and chairman of curtain walling specialist Dortech, put his head above the parapet and said that he would no longer accept any work from Balfour Beatty, despite it meaning losing 40% of turnover at a stroke. Here, in his own words, he explains why he felt compelled to speak out and strike a blow for subcontractors everywhere.

"I am 60 years old and have spent a lifetime in the construction and allied industries. I care passionately about the industry, the skills and the ingenuity of the small companies that service the industry. I have seen and heard of many companies going out of business and, like us, having their cash flow unfairly stressed. Like so many others I have stood on the side lines and just minded my business, not got involved.

"Until it happened to us, inflicted by our biggest customer, after the successful completion of nearly 80 projects over the past 13 years.

"In fairness the industry is more cut throat than ever, with large contractors being forced to accept contracts at below cost, and then having to find ways of reducing their costs. Supply chain efficiency management techniques that were starting to find their way into the industry have in a number of instances just ground to a halt in favour of the age old catch all of just relying on the contract, and financial muscle to squeeze the subcontractors as a way of reducing costs.

"In some ways you can’t blame them, as they are being squeezed by their clients, but in the case of Balfour Beatty, the market and industry leader which is more than 1,000 times bigger than Dortech, it was a shock given the high standards and good communication that had prevailed for the past 13 years.

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"If the market leader is going to behave in this negative manner, what chance does anyone else have. I worry that the behaviour towards us on these projects signals a significant and worrying change to their behaviour and by implication the behaviour of the entire industry.

"If the market and the contractors are going to change for the better, it will be down to the market leader to instigate that change. Therefore I have spoken up in the hope that someone at a high level in Balfour Beatty will take note, refer to their code of conduct displayed on their web site (page 32), adapt the question that they show on the introduction to the code of practise to this situation with Dortech and ask themselves, ‘Am I happy to be reading about this situation with Dortech in the newspapers’, If they are not, my question will be: what do they intend to do about it?  I hope I might get a positive reply from the commercial team at Balfour Beatty rather than their legal team.

"Putting your head above the parapet isn’t for everyone, but unfortunately we all know that solving problems quietly and behind the scenes will not change the system. However, I don’t think that we would have done it without the support and encouragement of Barry Ashmore of Streetwise Subbies who is energetically campaigning for change. Barry continues to drive for change for the better for all trades in the industry and is to be applauded for the initiatives that he has recently taken in highlighting the plight of the small to medium specialist subcontractors operating in the construction industry."

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