Somerset engineering boss – we are primed, I just wish I was younger
EDF Energy is close to making the final investment decision that will start main construction work on Hinkley Point C nuclear power station, Europe’s biggest civil engineering project.
The build will bring huge benefits for business, jobs and skills upgrades throughout Somerset and the wider west.
As this publication went to press there was some talk in the French media that EDF could even make its final decision before the end of this month.
Building the £18bn plant, and feeding, housing and transporting the workforce, will create 25,000 jobs. More than 60 per cent in value of the total build costs will be spent in the UK.
West Country businesses are on the starting blocks, tensed and ready for the starter’s gun.
But there have been some equally tense times along the way.
French state-owned EDF originally planned to build the plant with Centrica, which pulled out in 2013.
EDF began discussions with Chinese state-owned China General Nuclear Power Corporation, and last October the two state-owned companies signed an historic deal in London in the presence of Prime Minister David Cameron and Chinese President Xi Jinping. The Chinese will have a 33.5 per cent stake.
Nuclear could provide up to 30 per cent of the low-carbon electricity the country will need through the 2030s. Hinkley C itself will provide seven per cent.
The supply chain is well-developed, with identified preferred bidders heavily involved in construction planning.
Training for needed skills is under way and industrial agreements with trade unions are in place.
Somerset Chamber of Commerce is EDF’s procurement partner to manage the supply chain. Chris Langdon is the Chamber’s supply chain manager.
He said: “The Somerset team has been running this for five years now. So far 3,200 suppliers have registered from Somerset and the South West, of which 2,000 are from Somerset.
“There will be others who will have had conversations with the main contractors.
“They have told us who they are and what their core capabilities are. In the last five years there have been something like 190 suppliers who already have contracts, worth £50 million.”
Five work packages have been awarded to collaborative groups, covering needs ranging from buses to catering, construction, utilities and campus management.
Some are delivering interim contracts, and others are preferred bidders.
“It will all happen very quickly,” says Mr Langdon. “There are some challenges on the skills side which will have an impact on the local business community. There will be a shortage, but there’s a lot of optimism. It will be a big economic lift and that will increase the competition for skills but there are lots of businesses that will benefit and it will help to improve the skills levels. The five collaborative groups add up to £225 million which would otherwise have gone to national companies – that’s just a very small part of a very big package.
“As the project goes live we expect to increase capacity. We are collaborating with SWMAS Ltd who run a number of international contracts of business support, and we are also working with Business West, the chamber in Bristol, so we are growing our team too.”
Brokering business support to help suppliers meet quality and safety standards is another important part of Somerset Chamber’s work.
One business looking forward to the challenge of Hinkley is Mike Morgan Electrical Services, based at Bridgwater, which currently has 22 employees. It is a part of the Construction Operations Management Alliance (COMA) for construction utilities. Mr Morgan, who founded the business 30 years ago, said: “We have great opportunities within that group, and also as an established electrical contractor we are currently working in a small way on the new site. We have begun the process of getting badged up, of getting certain accreditations in place.
“We have used the last two-three years to take on board things that have been on offer from Somerset Chamber such as growth acceleration and Management skills and have picked up various courses from Bridgwater College and we have gained a lot from that. My workforce are broadening their skills. We have grown up. Wessex Water, a multi-million pound contractor which is a major player, is also a part of COMA, and we have now qualified with them as well.
“In two years’ time I think we could be employing more than 40 people. The real focus is that we are improving in lots of areas. And for our customers that’s going to be good all round.
“We hope our opportunity within COMA will be enormous and that it will be ongoing and we will maintain for the future such opportunities as maintenance of power stations or big local authority projects. The biggest issue is getting the right staff in at the right time. Skill sets are perhaps not as high as they used to be, and we are working hard with the college to bring youngsters forward. We have level 3 skills in the company and can bring people in with level 3 but are looking to get people trained up to level 4 and 5, but it’s difficult to get funding. I think the Government needs to help out for sure. There seems to be a lot of grant money about but it’s for level 2. I can understand that it is to get people going. We have had level 3 funding too.
“But there is 30 years of opportunity on your doorstep, and it’s all about local jobs. This is a fantastic engineering opportunity to be involved in. I just wish I was younger.”
Sedgemoor is ‘Hinkley Ready’ and raring to go
The massive earth-moving machines on site at Hinkley Point may have been silent for the past few months, but there has been no let-up in activity at neighbouring Sedgemoor District Council as it prepares for its role as a host authority for the biggest construction project in Europe.
Breathing space between consent for the new nuclear power station and the Final Investment Decision by EDF Energy has allowed Sedgemoor to work with its partners to pave the way for the smooth execution of the building project, and prepare for the influx of people, jobs, traffic and above all opportunities that building the UK’s first new nuclear power station in a generation will bring. Crucially, the hiatus has allowed time for the district to advance on its ambitious plans to create a hub for the renewable and low carbon energy sector. Through its links with the new nuclear industry and track record for commercial development delivery, Sedgemoor has secured Enterprise Zone status for Huntspill Energy Park near Bridgwater. At more than 90 hectares, the park will be one of the country’s largest stand-alone Enterprise Zone sites when operational, and together with partner sites near Exeter, will support the creation of 17,800 high value jobs over the next 25 years.
The Enterprise Zone will join a rapidly expanding portfolio of development sites within the area, with business park locations adjacent to J22, 23 and 24 currently available for investment. These sites are being supported by Sedgemoor’s strengthened inward investment and business team, as well as by the work of Into Somerset – the county’s joint inward investment service.
Working closely with Somerset County Council, Sedgemoor is also focusing on creating the space needed for the collaboration and innovation associated with a modern major project. The development of the Somerset Energy Innovation Centre, opening in early 2016 close to J23 of the M5, provides a bespoke facility catering for needs large and small across multiple areas.
Accommodating the firms and investment coming into the area is just one part of the co-ordinated preparation that has occupied the council and its partners. It includes continuing work on highways improvements that will ease the flow of construction traffic through the town on its way to and from the site. Investment at Bridgwater College in expanded facilities and the securing of the New Nuclear College for the UK are helping to develop skills and capacity. Joint working with EDF’s job brokerage is allowing local people to take advantage of recruitment associated with the project. A dedicated planning team at Sedgemoor is working hard to ensure that delivery keeps pace with the demands of the project.
More widely, Sedgemoor continues to implement its ambitious programme for growth. Accelerated house building in the district over the past five years is being sustained, with Housing Zone status providing added impetus. Activity in the crucial tourism, food and drink and logistics sectors seeks to harness the advantage of the district’s unique location and increasing visitor numbers. All of this is on top of the record £400m of investment the district has attracted since 2010. If you would like to learn more about the opportunities in Sedgemoor and arrange to see a dedicated inward investment account manager, please contact Carla Modley on email@example.com or 01278 435537