Somerset Passenger Solutions is a joint venture between Crosville Motor Services and First Somerset & Avon. It was set up in 2014 to bid for the provision and management of a bus fleet to transport workers to and from the Hinkley Point C site for the construction of the new nuclear build. In July 2015, Somerset Passenger Solutions was announced by EDF Energy as the preferred bidder for the contract, which is expected to be worth at least £70million over the next eight years.
Crosville Motor Services first became involved with the Hinkley project about five years ago. Since then, owner Jonathan Jones-Pratt has been actively engaged with the Hinkley supply chain and associated steering groups, also assisting EDF Energy to identify the bussing requirements for the project. Crosville tendered for and won the interim bus contract, which it has been delivering since February 2014. This started with just two minibuses and has grown to 35 full sized vehicles.
When it came to tendering for the full contract, this first-hand experience put Crosville in a strong position to understand the requirements of the work package. Jonathan Jones-Pratt explains, “I knew that we had a strong enough commitment and we had proved to EDF Energy that we could do it, but what we recognised was that when this contract peaks at 160-180 vehicles a day, it’s going to require a significant amount of resource. For EDF Energy, it is all about resilience, so I approached Alex Carter from First Group about us joining forces and we agreed to set up a joint venture, which ultimately became Somerset Passenger Solutions. We then invited First to work alongside us on the interim contract, so they started operating vehicles for Crosville on a subcontract basis. It was a bit of an unknown as we’re competitors in a day-to-day bus environment, but the relationship blossomed, proving that we could work well together.”
Explaining what makes this joint venture successful, Jonathan says, “I think one of our key strengths is that Somerset Passenger Solutions is a partnership between a PLC brand and a local independent. We engage at a very local level because we’re local people. First are very supportive of Crosville, and they respect our ethos and vision. We are creating something quite special here with a real legacy.”
Building resilience was the key factor in the creation of Somerset Passenger Solutions. Jonathan says, “You’ve got to be able to ensure that you can run your business to meet EDF Energy’s needs, so resilience is one of the key strengths of the collaboration. By that I mean you might have issues such as vehicle failure or driver shortages, and you’ve got to be able to rely on your brother in business, as it were. We’ve got to be tuned in to transporting up to 8,000 people a day, getting them on site, because we’ve got a power station to build. Even though we run buses, we’re part of building that power station and I think we’re the key cog in making this work. There will be a lot of people working there and if Somerset Passenger Solutions couldn’t get them on site, we’d have a big problem.”
Jonathan is clear about the importance of focusing on the bigger picture and the part that Somerset Passenger Solutions will play in the whole project. “We’ve got try to make the journey experience as good as possible for the workers, because it’s all about their positive attitude when we get them onto site. We’ve got to ensure that we have friendly drivers, smart drivers, clean vehicles, warm vehicles, etc. so we give the workers the best possible journey experience. There is a zero harm culture on site and that culture starts with us, because if we have a disgruntled passenger, they will not be in the right frame of mind when they get on site. That’s something that everyone has to be tuned into and understand when you’re building a nuclear power plant.”
Despite the size and influence of EDF Energy, Jonathan describes the company as “a very personal, caring organisation” and the team at Hinkley Point C as “a very small, knitted team, which is surprising for a corporate body.” He adds, “I can now class some of the people out there as friends, which I think is unusual with a project like this, and from our point of view as a family business that is very important.”
The Somerset Chamber of Commerce, which manages the Hinkley supply chain, has provided support and advice along the way for both Crosville and Somerset Passenger Solutions. Jonathan highlights the assistance the Chamber can provide to local businesses, but stresses that they should be engaging now. “I think the most frustrating thing that I hear is about businesses waiting for this power station to get the nod before getting involved. I just don’t understand that because you should want to get involved at an early stage. They should be attending the seminars that the Chamber is putting on and making the most of the opportunities now.
“The project is good for Somerset and everyone needs to get behind this and get involved – get involved with the Chamber, engage, learn, interact. There’s plenty of help that the Chamber can give to new or existing businesses to help them get started and grow with the project. If you’re prepared to be enthusiastic and put in the hard work, you can go far.”
Asked for his advice to businesses getting involved in the project, he says, “Constantly believe in yourself, and bounce back – bouncing back is key as it’s a steep learning curve with a project like this.
“The project and the journey we’ve been on have been pretty hard work, so it’s important for businesses to look at the people around them and make sure there are people who can support them, then get those people involved. If you haven’t got the support there already, see who else you can bring in to work with you, but don’t ever lose the personal touch. The other important thing is not to forget your bread and butter – don’t neglect the core of your business.”
Summing up, he says, “It was clear from the outset that this project was going to be very special. It’s amazing to think that we’re going to be part of it, and to imagine how it will feel in five years’ time when we’re walking around the depots and we’ve got a Somerset Passenger Solutions garage there. I can’t wait to experience that! We are proud to be working with EDF Energy and proud to have our name associated with them, it’s definitely been worth all the hard work.”