Features

A dynamic and successful business with lots going on

Alan Bramwell, chief executive of Clancy Consulting.

Clancy Consulting has been providing engineering services for a wide range of clients for over 45 years. Andy Walker visited the firm’s Altrincham offices and spoke to chief executive Alan Bramwell about how the firm is doing and how he views the state of the industry.

Alan Bramwell strikes you as the sort of person you’d like to work for. He’s confident without being showy and he knows his stuff. He’s been with Clancy Consulting since 1982 so he knows the firm inside out and he’s seen many changes during his time there. Like many of the staff at Clancy, he’s stayed the course and in a part of the country where loyalty is valued more than most, Clancy Consultancy has got it in spades.

A genuine stake in the business

That loyalty works two ways, to clients as well as staff. It’s a selling point that Bramwell is keen to mention when bidding for work. “What we try to highlight as much as we can is the owner-managed element of the firm and the direct influence and longstanding care for that client’s programme we bring,” Bramwell tells me. “We use that heavily when we are pitching for work. The people that our clients are going to be working with are people who have an absolute genuine stake and a hard core interest in that business. It’s why we structure our business in the way that we do, so that our share ownership goes right through the firm. They are not just winning the work, they will be involved in that project and are hands-on,” says Bramwell.

Spread over nine locations across the country, Clancy Consulting is a firm that’s on the up, with turnover now at £12m. Like many SME firms, the Altrincham head-officed consultancy is heavily involved in property and building work and Bramwell is keen that the industry looks beyond heavy infrastructure when promoting the benefits of what it does. “Most SME consultancies like ourselves have probably being doing 60-65% housing work for the last three or four years,” says Bramwell. “Residential is still important to firms like ours but other sectors are starting to pick up, including industrial, health and education. Representing the people that are doing buildings is important as that’s often the public’s main contact with our industry,” he says.

Bramwell welcomes the government’s recent focus on making sure that local SME firms get a slice of the infrastructure investment pie, but he thinks that that the playing field is not a level one. “The government outwardly talk about their agenda to encourage SMEs but they are continually shooting themselves in the foot,” he says. “The requirements to bid or to get on frameworks are often unrealistic. The latest one we saw was ‘cyber-essentials’, a commitment on data security for bidders that cost £1,200 just to put in an application. Smaller SMEs are not going to pay that on the off chance of getting the work,” says Bramwell.

“Complying with minimum requirements alone can sometimes take ten to 12 weeks, which is no good for smaller firms. Government and public sector clients need to look at these things if they genuinely want to encourage SME firms to bid for work. We need local firms to be bidding for work because that means local jobs and money going into the local economy,” Bramwell argues.

Regional focus needs to benefit the regions

With new government investment to the regions set to come on stream soon, Clancy Consulting should benefit, but Bramwell has a warning. “New investment is important but the government’s focus on the regions needs to truly benefit the regions. Will HS2 bring more to the north or make it easier to get to London? Political decisions make a difference and the politicians need to get it right,” he says.

The social infrastructure that the government says it wants to develop more of is an important area for Clancy Consulting and the housing sector in particular is very active. “We’re not doing as much social housing as we did in the past but we are doing a lot of variable work,” says Bramwell. “Assisted living has been a massive area for us with a lot of clever models coming out for that sector and also student accommodation. We are doing more multi-storey residential work than we have done for a long time, thanks to the investment-led private rented sector and Manchester and Liverpool is particularly busy. At the last count we had 15-20 30-storey plus schemes on the go which are sizable chunks of infrastructure,” he says.

Other sectors like education are also productive for the firm and Bramwell cites increasing work in the health and leisure centre sector driven by the need for better health and wellbeing. “Wellbeing is interesting because it’s likely that wellbeing ratings for commercial buildings will become a serious factor in the future,” says Bramwell. “A wellbeing accreditation in your building will be a significant factor in rental values and workplace satisfaction and we are likely to see investors investing in schemes that have a wellbeing tag because they will be easier to sell or let. It’s something that’s worth keeping an eye on and we have a director keenly involved in that area,” Bramwell tells me.

Career opportunities

Turning to the issue of recruitment, I ask Bramwell how a firm like Clancy Consulting goes about attracting the people it needs. He tells me that just as clients benefit from the firm’s hands-on approach, so do staff. “An example is one of the recent directors we have just taken on, who left a much larger firm because he didn’t see a career path ahead,” Bramwell explains. “So, he joined us to run an office with autonomy, but with an umbrella of other offices around him, and he also has a career path through into ownership if he wants it. People can join us, run an office in a senior position in a local area and then develop the firm in that area,” says Bramwell.

“We need to bring people in from outside with the experiences of being at an AECOM or a WSP for example, because they have a different take on things and new and different managerial experiences we can draw on,” Bramwell says. “Bringing those people in alongside others who have been here for longer creates a diverse mix of people. It’s all about getting the right balance at the end of the day,” he tells me.

The firm takes a flexible but nimble approach to resourcing work and their office structure enables them to pool their resources, such that around a third of Clancy’s work is moved around the business and resourced in that way. This in turn leads to a very healthy and collaborative team spirit within the firm which is something that Clancy Consulting is justifiably proud of.

“We have a really good company culture,” says Bramwell. “A family culture is what we provide as a company and there’s a lot of social activity in the individual offices. We also try to help out staff who have gone through difficult periods and we did that during the recession in particular. We have examples of people who have been offered other positions elsewhere on more money who have turned around and said ‘what Clancys did for me was priceless and I’m not moving’. That loyalty is very valuable to us,” Bramwell tells me.

An award-winning pedigree

Clancy Consulting is typical of many SME firms in the construction sector that get on with the job, often without fanfare, but who are very highly regarded by their clients. Those clients include many that have worked with the firm repeatedly. Recent projects include the multi-award-winning Aloft Hotel in Liverpool, where Clancy provided the civil, structural and M&E work of a sensitively restored building in the city centre. Their work on HB Villages’ assisted living roll out programme has also received plaudits and as a consequence of the experience they have developed working on a technology-led housing project, they are now working with other contractors on other schemes.  

The British Motor Museum Collections Centre, where Clancy provided civil, structural and mechanical and electrical services, is another award-winning project and the firm is also involved in a range of leisure and retail projects across the country. Clancy is also working at Linemouth in Northumberland on the first power station to be given the go ahead from the government to cease coal burning and convert to full biomass supply.

“We’re proud of the projects we work on,” says Bramwell. “We want to grow and develop the business sustainably and our fundamental reason for wanting to do that is so that we create career development opportunities for people. We’re enthusiastic about the future and we want to be dynamic because people want to join a business that has things going on,” he says.