The Somerset Infrastructure Alliance is one of five local supplier groups that were announced by EDF Energy at the end of July as preferred bidders for the Hinkley Point C project. The group was named as the preferred bidder for the site infrastructure services work package, which includes maintaining the development site and managing the safe movement of people and vehicles around an area of approximately 410 hectares. This work package has a potential contract value of at least £35million over the next eight years.
Based in Bridgwater, RK Bell Group is one of the founding companies in the Somerset Infrastructure Alliance supplier group, which was established in October 2013. RK Bell Group initially became aware of the opportunities at and around Hinkley Point C at an EDF Energy presentation about five years ago. Managing Director Nick Bell has since been involved with, and led, various Somerset Supplier Steering Groups organised with support from the Somerset Chamber of Commerce to identify potential opportunities for Somerset companies.
Nick Bell explains that working in collaboration soon became the obvious next step. “Once we understood the scope of requirement for the Site Operations Services packages, it was very clear that we needed to work collaboratively with others that were registered on the supply chain portal. We were very honest about our own capabilities right from the outset and knew that we needed to work with partners we trusted, to make sure we were capable of delivering the work as well as managing the contractual, legal, financial and governance requirements involved in the construction of a new nuclear power plant.
“We entered into a Pre-Qualifying 4 Gated Process and we were closely audited by EDF Energy at every stage, both individually and collectively as a group of companies, making sure all governance requirements were met. Once completed, the Somerset Infrastructure Alliance was born. The collectively diverse range of skills within this local supply chain means there is very little the group isn’t able to deliver.”
Regarding the benefits of being in a collaborative supplier group, Nick says, “There are many benefits of working collaboratively in life in general, and for an SME like us to enter into a contract with two locally based but globally recognised companies speaks volumes of what is truly achievable. If all parties are genuinely united, with clear and precise support and guidance, driven forward by the client – in this case EDF Energy – great things can, and will, be achieved. We endeavour to build our legacy starting yesterday, future-proofing and creating a sustainable company for the next generations of families to follow.”
The businesses involved in the Somerset Infrastructure Alliance have learned a lot already through the Hinkley process, with Nick advising, “Understand your own company’s capabilities and do not under estimate the amount of time and money required to get involved in a project of this size.” Other key learnings, he said, included working openly and honestly, being flexible, trusting your partners, taking help and advice when offered, and delivering on your commitments. “The benefits from working collaboratively aren’t just about it being financially rewarding – the knowledge gain is immeasurable.”
In terms of the next steps for the Somerset Infrastructure Alliance, Nick says their aim is “to keep working to the plan and hitting the timelines set out, and to build a world class service for our client that can be sustained for the lifetime of the contract, and beyond.”
He speaks very highly of the Somerset Chamber’s involvement throughout, saying, “The Chamber has been invaluable in this process, supporting each and every member of the supply chain with initial membership through to joining the correct supplier steering groups at every step of the process. They have also made it possible to engage early with EDF Energy, to allow everyone in the supply chain to speak more openly and freely, breaking down the usual barriers that are in place with a project of such national importance with high levels of governance. The work that the Chamber has delivered has been invaluable throughout this engagement process and quite frankly we wouldn’t this position without them.”
If it were possible to wind the clock back to when he first became aware of the Hinkley opportunity, Nick says he wouldn’t be quite so sceptical. He encourages businesses not already engaged with the project to make the most it. “Opportunities are not given, they are earned. Sign up on the Hinkley supply chain portal and you will have every chance of getting involved. EDF Energy has given a strong commitment to engage with the Somerset supply chain, so give yourselves every opportunity.”
Summing up, he says, “This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity in our backyard, and there are some significant challenges with a project of this size. Engage early, understand your capabilities, then go for it!”