At the Chamber’s last ‘Pipeline East - Forthcoming Construction Developments’ webinar, there were references to or mention of things ‘local, e.g., local businesses, local employment, and local suppliers etc. It rather raises the question, just what is meant by the term ‘local’?
Some people might remember a rather clever advert widely used by HSBC some years ago in which it described itself as, ‘the worlds local bank’. Eventually the bank moved on to other marketing campaigns dropping the phrase; however, it’s a motto still readily identifiable with HSBC.
The phrase rather neatly illustrates that things are not always quite as straightforward or simple as they might at first appear. ‘Local’ to one party might mean something very different to another party. In the context of construction, there has been a drive over recent years to engage and encourage ‘local’ people and supply chains. In these cases, it is important to clearly define just what is meant by the term.
To take some examples, ‘local’ could be defined as being within a certain distance from a project or place. It could also be defined as being within a particular borough or group of boroughs working together. It could be within a county or arguably even within a country. Similarly, it might be that a purchaser or employer specifies certain post codes or post code districts which they consider to be ‘local’ to them. In Wales, there are only six postcode districts for the whole of the country.
Then there are the issues of ‘what’ constitutes ‘local. For example, does a local branch of a nationwide builder’s merchant truly constitute local? Does a corporate head office in a certain area constitute local when it may be mainly an administrative and/or legal centre but little more? If a contractor or subcontractor engages staff for a project who are living in ‘local’ accommodation for the duration of the work, but ordinarily live elsewhere, do they count as local?
On top of the above issues, it may be necessary that in trying to increase ‘local’ engagement, in whatever form, to ensure that regulatory requirements are not infringed, that no unfair advantages are introduced into the tendering process (even if inadvertently) and that, there are in fact ‘local’ people and/or companies who have both the requisite skills and willingness to engage in the process, not necessarily something that can or should be taken for granted.
Whilst local engagement may be seen as a positive and desirable approach, which indeed it may be, it is necessary to think through the process carefully to ensure the reasons for promoting it in the first place are valid and can deliver measurable benefits and outcomes, including best value, as well as the hoped-for social and/or economic advantages. Of course, the term ‘value’ may be open to interpretation – but that’s another story!
Perhaps the underlying message and imperative, like so many things in construction, is clarity. Buyers should clear in what is being specified or requested of tenderers and tenderers need to be clear in understanding what is being asked of them such that they can respond appropriately.
William Marshall, MCIOB, PIEMA, MCIPS
Patterdale Supply Chain Services Limited.