Letter from: The North West

Mike Barber

After many years of disappointing news, ACE members in the North West can finally look to the future with an increasing level of confidence in their workload and their fortunes, writes ACE North West regional chair Mike Barber.

A large number of major projects have already been given the go-ahead, including Manchester’s Airport City, an expansion of Media City in Salford, the Wirral Waters regeneration project transforming Birkenhead Docks and the overdue investment into the railway network with the Northern Hub and HS2. Whilst the major consultancies will secure the lion’s share of these projects, it is inevitable that specialist firms and SME’s will be in a strong position to pick up.

More good news followed last week, with the announcement that £1.1bn of Government funding is to be invested in the North West through a series of growth deals beginning in 2015-16.

Greater Manchester received the highest award in the country, which is not only an indication of need, but also testament to the skills of our local business leaders and politicians in successfully articulating the regions priorities. The other four Local Enterprise Partnerships in our region also achieved the success in their bids they were looking for.

I have met with many business owners over the past twelve months, representing consultancies large and small from across the entire region. Each one, without exception, is seeing tender opportunities increase, workloads becoming more transparent and many are now actively recruiting.

There is however one negative theme. Margins. Fee levels generally remain in the doldrums, with firms reluctant to prejudice their increasing workloads by raising their rates. It is, however, a vicious circle. Firms need to attract quality staff and this is difficult without meeting rising salary aspirations.

Many firms are increasingly looking to develop their teams by recruiting apprentices and graduates. I am personally delighted to support two national initiatives which have recently been rolled out by ACE in the North West.

One is the launch of Progress Network, ACE’s community for young professional consultants and engineers. Its inaugural meeting took place at the end of July in Manchester. Progress Network will bring a high level of networking and connection to the industry, supported by an enthusiastic local management board.

We are also extending our reach to 16-19 years olds by expanding the Technician Apprentice Consortium in the North West. The scheme has also attracted the interest of our partner alliances in CECA and we will see more employers tapping into this fantastic scheme in coming months.

Our regional members will be hearing more about these initiatives over coming months and they will be an essential management tool to support the sustainable growth of our ACE members in the North West.