John Hardy Portland
Mark Grant

Member Article

bdaily builds a picture of Portland Consulting Engineers with Managing Director John Hardy

Area of expertise

I have worked in the construction industry, as a professionally qualified structural engineer for 47 years.

Throughout my career I have been involved in the design and procurement of many buildings and structures, both in the UK and abroad and acted as an expert witness on building failures. My particular area of expertise is in reinforced concrete design and construction. In addition, I am approved by the Government in Scotland, to certify buildings under the Building Warrant scheme.

What key challenges has your company faced?

The operating directors accepted that our biggest challenge was to survive until better times and to do this we needed a coherent strategy going forward.

Secondly, battling bureaucratic methods of public sector procurement have made it virtually impossible for small professional firms, such as ours, to obtain work in the sector. I believe that if growth is to be obtained, this onerous form of procurement should stop and a return to simpler forms of procurement, which still deliver economies of scale and cost, is needed. Local professionals can deliver but more importantly, they are the major contributors to the local economy.

What is your biggest achievement over the past 12 months?

Apart from surviving, I am pleased to be able to say it is also continuing to provide clients with the high level of service they have come to expect from us.We have achieved this, in some part, by successful collaboration with other professionals on short term contracts, to obtain additional resources at the correct time to deliver the project.

Also, I am proud of the work we are doing with social housing provider Riverside Housing, on projects under the ‘Places for Change’ initiative. These projects make a difference to people’s lives and it’s satisfying to know that Portland Consulting has made its own positive contribution.

What is your biggest focus for the coming year?

Having developed a robust growth and marketing strategy for the practice, sticking to it is key and of course, like everyone in our industry, winning work at a profitable fee level is essential.

Starting out in business in a recession is extremely difficult within the construction industry, due to the amount of competition that is being created on a daily basis by larger firms retracting and making staff redundancies.

If you had to choose one top piece of advice for someone just starting out in business, or is currently operating within your industry sector, what would it be?

A new business needs a level of income to survive through the difficult times and it is important to make sure that the industry knows that you are there and that you have the expertise to carry out the work.

The best advice is not to over expose the business but to work within the level of resource that you have. This sometimes means that you have to work weekends to achieve programmes dictated by others. In addition, you need to be very commercial and invoice clients promptly, so that you can chase the payments. If you don’t have the cash in your account then your business will not survive!

Can you share with us your view of the current landscape of business, in this region or generally and where your organisation sits within it?

Business within the construction industry in this region is slow to stop and will continue in this vain until the methods of procurement change to a much simpler process.

As an example, I recently attended a workshop for the procurement of work within the public sector. The message given was, ‘we have to reduce our costs by 20% and to do this we are looking to appoint companies through our framework, on the basis that they can deliver quality but at this reduced level of cost’.

How does a construction industry that is now tendering for work at levels below margin, deliver a further 20% reduction in cost, when they are being squeezed by the higher cost of raw materials?

As with all other industries once we lose the skills it is extremely difficult to respond to any upturn in a meaningful manner. As an expert witness, I have seen many buildings constructed just after recessions that have failed due to the fact that the skill was not there to deliver the quality required. Construction is a very skilled operation and good quality is the result of a well trained and experienced workforce. We are at serious risk of losing all of this.

This was posted in Bdaily's Members' News section by Mark Grant .

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