How Small Businesses Can Get Involved in the £460 Billion of Major Projects in the U.K.
The U.K. Government's Major Projects Portfolio totals £455.5 billion in the U.K., according to its 2016-17 annual report. It includes 130 projects of national significance, ranging from rail infrastructure initiatives, such as Crossrail 2 to nuclear development (Sellafield) and IT transformation programs. There is a substantial opportunity for small businesses to get involved in bringing these to life and the government recognizes that more should be done to incorporate small businesses. In 2018, the government set a target that 33 percent of procurement spend should be with small businesses by 2022.
It's easy to see why small businesses would want to contribute to mega projects: Involvement in mega projects can be a mark of credibility, as well as offering the potential for long-term contracts and future engagement in other large-scale projects. One of the things that I liked about working in construction as a student was being able to point to an iconic monument and say, "I helped make that happen." What is less clear is how entrepreneurs can get involved.
1. Take advantage of government resources.
The English government and its agencies now use Contracts Finder for issuing contracts of goods and services at £10,000 and over. Some of these may be subcontracting opportunities for mega projects. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland also have similar services to Contract Finder.
At an Institute for Government event, Ed Green, deputy director for EU and domestic procurement policy at the Crown Commercial Service, recommended that Contracts Finder can be used to find opportunities that may be available two to three years later, affording companies time to increase staff numbers or capability.
2. Do something innovative within your field.
If you are one of a few organizations who can offer a service, this greatly reduces the competition. It can also give you a first-mover advantage that serves to lessen competition further and reinforce your prominence in the market. Innovation is not solely limited to new technology: You can also explore new ways of engaging with clients.
Network Rail has partnered with Innovate U.K. to run a competition on "Planning rail capacity through automated infrastructure design." While this is awarding grants of £50,000 to £200,000 to conduct the research for up to a year, a strategic business could leverage this to deliver further work in rail projects within the Major Projects Portfolio.
3. Build a reputation as an expert.
As an entrepreneur, it's very helpful if you don't just do great work but that you are known for doing great work. If you're seen as a go-to person or company in your industry, it's far more likely that you'll get opportunities to work on the most engaging and challenging mega projects and that they will come to you. There are a myriad of ways to do this: writing a book, speaking at conferences, getting involved in discipline-specific bodies, writing for industry publications or producing case studies and white papers.
4. Form partnerships with other companies.
The Major Projects Association suggests regional construction hubs could be used to help small businesses grow. They note that Heathrow's expansion may be supported by logistic hubs which would help airports "attract a more diverse supply chain and get closer to the SME community." This is a principle that could be replicated across other sectors, while amplifying your impact and interests.
The Major Projects Association also recommends working with businesses that are signatories to the Prompt Payment Code. The Code specifies that payment should be made within 60 days and can help avoid the cash flow issues that can come with lengthy payment terms.
Being a small company doesn't mean that you are limited to working on unremarkable projects. Use these methods to make a difference in the most engaging and challenging mega projects that will change the country.