C&RT contracts get longer and larger

February 2017 - Peter Underwood looks at the way work and skills are contracted out by C&RT in ever bigger contracts running for much longer periods.

Replacing skilled staff with contractors is a process that started with British Waterways and has continued under the Canal & River Trust- who have gone a step further by amalgamating contracts so that large swathes of expertise are completely dependent upon a single contractor.

The most recent examples are the dredging contract and a single national contract for all mechanical and electrical (M&E) work which has gone to AMCO Ltd. ​

That contract covers almost 1,000 pieces of historic and iconic engineering, from swing bridges and powered locks to unique structures like Anderton Boat Lift in Cheshire, Three Mills Lock in London, and the Tees Barrage.

It has been some years since skilled and experienced staff were directly employed by C&RT or BW and new generations were taken on to inherit their experience through proper apprenticeships.

Instead contractors are brought in as and when needed and the latest engineering contract brings together three contracts into a single contract worth £24.5m over seven years at current spending rates of £3.5m a year.

It means C&RT are completely dependent on a single company for essential works and the length of the contract makes it unlikely that any other outside contractor will bother to develop the skills needed to work on historic pieces of engineering. All of which will give the winning company a distinct advantage when the contract is renegotiated.

Simon Bamford, asset delivery director at Canal & River Trust, said: “The canals were the engineering masterpieces of their day and, while some of the technology has changed over the years, they still require a dedicated team of engineers to look after them.”

The Mechanical, Electrical, Instrumentation, Control and Automation Contract (MEICA for short) will cover maintenance, renewal, upgrades and repairs.

AMCO managing director Steve Stiff, said: “We look forward to establishing a new contract relationship with the Trust and delivering what we believe will be great customer service as well as efficiencies.”

C&RT insists it retains expertise in this crucial area in its own Asset Management team and Direct Services Mechanical and Electrical team and that the contract does not require any redeployment of staff or redundancies from the Trust.

It says the contract contains Key Performance Indicators for both the contractor and the Trust which will be measured by the Simon Bamford's Asset Delivery team and claims that combining three contracts into one will 'drive efficiencies and deliver better value for the Trust'.

C&RT also denies that it plans to outsource all skilled and unskilled work leaving it with very few staff other than managers and their immediate support staff, saying: “This contract replaces three contracts we have had for the last four to five years and this type of work has been delivered by contractors for many years before that.”

Photo: Contractors - not C&RT staff - look after the iconic Anderton Boat Lift.

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