Local building contractors have taken a “cynical view” of the new Anderson High School, despite assurances from the organisation behind the £43 million project that stakeholders are being kept firmly in the loop.
Managing director of Lerwick building firm DITT, Peter Tait, has described a lack of communication from Hub North Scotland, and describes promises that local contractors will be kept involved as “a lot of fine words”.
His comments follow last week’s approval of the new high school at the Clickimin by the council’s planning committee, marking a major milestone in the school’s development 21 years since first being discussed in the town hall.
On Friday Hub North Scotland said it was committed to “partnership working” as preparations for work to start on the Clickimin site get underway.
The organisation’s chief executive, Angus Macfarlane, said work would be done with the SIC to ensure the local supply chain is “embraced”.
Responding to the claims, Mr Tait said local companies were reluctant to get involved before the project goes to financial close. But he said other organisations based out-with the isles were meanwhile suddenly appearing.
“We’ve asked the hub a number of times what their experience is and what proportion of work under other projects is actually being done by, what they call, their supply chain. They keep promising to get back to us with those figures but, strangely enough, it never comes,” he said.
“I guess the local industry has taken a slightly cynical view of the whole thing.”
Concerns over local involvement were highlighted last November after one of the UK’s largest building companies, Miller Construction, was appointed the main contractor.
Earlier this year Miller were taken over by Galliford Try. Morrison Construction, which also rests under Galliford Try’s umbrella and has been working at the Total gas plant, has involvement in the new school, too.
Mr Tait said documents had recently been released “out of the blue” by Carey Construction, which operates in the UK and Ireland.
“There seems to be various layers of management sub-contractors being created in between us and other potential local sub-contractors and the hub itself.”
He said other correspondence had highlighted a company called Mears Group – a subsidiary of Morrisons – which, he said, had “apparently” been given a maintenance contract for 25 years after the job of building the school is complete.
“We [local industry] are all sitting back at the moment. I don’t think any of us are looking to get too involved until we have a definite timetable, because I think the project still has to go to financial close which isn’t until Spring next year.
“I don’t think any of us want to spend a lot of time pricing up specifications … without some certainty that something’s going to happen.”
Information published by the Scottish Futures Trust, which manages the hub programme, highlights £465 million of community projects are either being built or are open. The value of projects currently under construction is £323 million and is supporting over 4,000 jobs in the construction industry across the country, it says.
Hub North said work was ongoing to complete the tendering and procurement process.
Mr Macfarlane said: “We have demonstrated in previous and ongoing projects our dedication to businesses local to those developments. We will be working closely with Morrison Construction and Shetland Islands Council to ensure to ensure the local supply chain is embraced at each stage of the project and that it delivers on every level.
“The new Anderson High School represents the most significant investment ever made by Shetland Islands Council on behalf of the community it serves, and we have a responsibility to ensure the process is as efficient and inclusive as possible.”
Chairwoman of the council’s education and families committee, Vaila Wishart, said: “I am pleased we have achieved this important milestone and I look forward to the project progressing.”