Big Ben, Brexit, Ethical Issues, Construction Projects, Nuclear News and more
By Miles Shepherd
Executive Advisor & International Correspondent
Salisbury, England, UK
The rush of events around the year end have at last subsided – at least sufficiently for me to be able to pen this report. I don’t feel too bad about missing last month’s report as the year end was delayed. The sharp-eyed of you will have noticed that New Year celebrations were delayed by one second – at least in UK! Apparently, the atomic clocks that keep track of world time coped easily with the extra second but Big Ben had a more complex problem to deal with as it is controlled by the pendulum. Traditionally old coins are used to moderate the duration of the swing but for such a small change (sorry!) getting the coinage right was a challenge. One old penny adds 2/5 of a second over 24 hours. According to The Times (again, sorry!) some 4 old pennies might be needed. We cannot blame Brexit for this – the leap second is needed because of variations in the earth’s rotation. However, think of the Clock Keeper who has a climb of 334 steps to get to the belfry to place the coins on the pendulum. (photo: Big Ben, courtesy of Wikipedia)
What a year 2016 was! Brexit and Trump have distracted almost everyone and the world is certainly a very different place than many of us would have forecast. This just shows how difficult it is to estimate accurately, a major issue for those involved in the management of projects.
This month I am playing catch up so some of the ‘news’ are actually from last month but is, I think, still relevant. That means I will have to cover some of the BREXIT reports but there is also news of corruption in the project world. On a more positive note, major government project, construction news and a mention of nuclear projects.
This topic is hardly ever out of the headlines so I make no apology for mentioning some of the key points here. As I pen these words, the politicians at Westminster have just voted to allow the Government to trigger the process of leaving the European Union. Many will have a heavy heart at the prospect as we see ourselves as European as well as British but ‘the people have spoken’ so the process will start shortly. As ever in UK, the final decision is not entirely final as there is consistent opposition from Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales and with it, the threat to the Union of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. We shall see but the signs are not good. Some of the lesser known Members of Parliament are pressing for a further referendum on any negotiated terms. Quite what the outcome of such a vote might be is far from clear – if ‘the people’ reject treaty terms, what would be the next step: simply walking out?
On the financial front, the £ remains weak which increases the cost of imports but makes exports cheaper. The weak £ also fuels overseas takeovers and one of interest to the project world is an attempt by CH2M Hill to take over WS Atkins. The pair are working together on the HS2 franchise and reports in The Times that the two had explored possibilities before Christmas sent WS Atkins share price sharply up. However, later reports in the Daily Telegraph seem to indicate that the US approach has been cold shouldered by the British company although no formal announcements have been made, which fuels speculation about any future link up.
On the positive side of BREXIT, Liam Fox MP, one of the ministerial Three Stooges for BREXIT, claims that £16 Billion has been invested in the UK economy since the Referendum. Less positively, there is the threat of many specially cheap EU loans for projects such as clean energy, off-shore wind farms, universities and some big infrastructure projects are threatened. UK is a 16% shareholder in the European Investment Bank (EIB) which in the last decade has made more than £42 Billion available at particularly cheap interest rates to hospitals, railways, social housing and many other projects. EIB made some £5.2 Billion available last year, including £200 million to Oxford University and £150 million to the City of Liverpool to improve its container port. There are also many projects in the pipeline that many consider will not be funded if UK leaves. This includes a 450 megawatt wind farm off the Scottish coast, a £300 million social housing project in London and a £400 million load for a very large sewage and drinking water improvement project in the Midlands.
To cap the bad news, several of the towns that voted solidly for BREXIT have seen overseas owned factories closed. These include Foterra, the biggest brick maker in UK which has said it will mothball two plants and Lush Cosmetics who reacted to Poole’s 58% BREXIT vote by saying its 1.400 strong work force from 38 countries were ‘not welcome and not wanted in Poole’. The biggest worry remains the reaction of the City of London, one of the major financial capitals of the world. Several banks have already made plans to move staff to Paris (and not Frankfurt which is a major surprise). Despite all this gloom, the year closed with reports that businesses are more optimistic about their future than at any time in the past year according to the Institute of Directors (IoD).
About the Author
Miles Shepherd is an executive editorial advisor and international correspondent for PM World in the United Kingdom. He is also managing director for MS Projects Ltd, a consulting company supporting various UK and overseas Government agencies, nuclear industry organisations and other businesses. Miles has over 30 years’ experience on a variety of projects in UK, Eastern Europe and Russia. His PM experience includes defence, major IT projects, decommissioning of nuclear reactors, nuclear security, rail and business projects for the UK Government and EU. Past Chair and Fellow of the Association for Project Management (APM), Miles is also past president and chair of the International Project Management Association (IPMA). He is currently Director of PMI’s Global Accreditation Centre and the Chair of the ISO committee developing new international standards for Project Management and for Program/Portfolio Management. He was involved in setting up APM’s team developing guidelines for project management oversight and governance. Miles is based in Salisbury, England and can be contacted at email@example.com
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