Swansea Council has today named the principal contractor for Phase One of the £120million Swansea Central development.  Buckingham Group Contracting will be leading the project to build the digital arena, coastal park, homes, shops and restaurants, both sides of Oystermouth Road, near the LC2.

Buckingham Group is a Buckinghamshire-based firm with regional offices across England, and they have been appointed on the basis of their “outstanding record in successfully delivering major high-profile schemes”.

The announcement comes in the context of many 4theRegion members and others arguing the case for more in-region procurement relating to major projects in the City Deal, and everyone is keen to see a genuine focus on ensuring that the supply chain creates plenty of opportunities for regional firms.

Rob Stewart, leader of Swansea Council, says:

“We have agreed a procurement strategy with Buckingham, and we are working with Construction Futures Wales to run the first Meet the Buyer event in early March.  We have written into the contract requirements for the contractor to invite tenders from suitable local businesses.  And we will be holding them accountable.  Should a suitable local business not win a tender over a business further away, we will require justification for that decision.  Obviously we cannot preclude that happening, but Buckingham are well aware of our aspirations.”

Observers will be paying close attention to how this agreement plays out.  The importance of proactively ensuring in-region procurement can not be overstated, if we are to realise the long term economic uplift from major capital investment projects in the region.  

At 4theRegion, we know some of our members have been frustrated in the past by the appointment of external consultants and contractors, and we are looking to City Deal leaders to do everything they can, within procurement rules – including challenging those rules where appropriate – to ensure regional businesses and communities benefit from spending on major works.  

There have been some good examples – including Swansea Council’s schools building programme.  And there is no doubt that the will is there at a city and a regional level.  Welsh Government and Business Wales have been working closely on the issue of procurement for some time, including engagement with Transport for Wales, which has seen the appointment of a Supplier Champion and proactive engagement with SMEs. 

We know that the City Deal regional office is drafting a set of Procurement Principles for upcoming projects, including looking at Project Bank Accounts to ensure smaller suppliers get paid on time.  In practice, how might we hold contractors accountable to the regional supply chain, and are there any “teeth” behind the oft-cited “aspirations”?  

The new EU procurement directives from 2014 provided an opportunity for countries and cities to think differently about procurement, encouraging:

  • Greater flexibility
  • Increased engagement with SMEs
  • Wider social and environmental goals

Likewise, the Well-being of Future Generations Act calls on decision-makers to consider the wider impact of their procurement decisions and to look for (and score) “Added Value” in terms of impact on regional prosperity, resilience, health, equality, cohesiveness, culture and natural environment.

In the context of all this, it is concerning to note that continued funding for Construction Futures Wales has not yet been confirmed by Welsh Government.  CFW has had an important role to play in engaging with Major Buyers to run Meet the Buyer events and other assistance to both buyers and suppliers, so it will be crucial to understand what is intended to replace CFW if it ceases to exist beyond March.

Meanwhile, 4theRegion is exploring opportunities to map the regional supply chain through our regional map, and our Procurement Survey is still live if you would like to have your voice heard on anything relating to this topic.

And have you registered your interest in the upcoming City Centre Conference on 9th April?  We are hoping that Buckingham will be one of our speakers on the day, and we’ll be announcing more details very soon.

If you’d like to be kept in the loop as more details on any of the above become available, please make sure you’re connected with us at 4theRegion.  You can subscribe to our mailing list, or drop us an email, via our Contact Page.  You can also Join Us, if you haven’t already, to support our work to make change happen in positive ways for the region, including holding regional projects accountable to the supply chain, and promoting opportunities for all.

p.s. Please save the date for the Swansea City Centre Conference: