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Nice work if you can get it

Remember that slogan ‘Improving the Image of Construction’ which gets plastered over every new building site in the country? Back in September 2009 103 construction companies were fined £129.5m by the Office of Fair Trading following an investigation into collusion by companies on contract bidding, or price fixing, between 2000 and 2006. One of the offending companies was Olympics contractor John Sisk and Co, which is working on the Athletes’ Village and the Woolwich shooting range. In keeping with British soft touch regulation the fines for this offence were then dramatically reduced in March 2011 by the Competition Appeal Tribunal on the extraordinary grounds that this practice was "long-standing in the industry and widely regarded as legitimate"!

Sisk, along with other Olympics contractor Laing O’Rourke, has also engaged in another long-standing and widely accepted practice of key personnel moving from one company to another. A case in point is Guy Fowler who moved from Sisk, where he was contracts manager, to Laing O’Rourke in 2003, to become project manager, and then back again to Sisk in October 2011. When he was at Laing O’Rourke he was working alongside his old mates at Sisk on the Athletes’ Village, so he might have been forgiven for forgetting which company he was actually working for.

Just as Mr Fowler was heading back to Sisk another person about to find a home at Laing O’Rourke was Howard Shiplee, former ODA Director of Construction, who moved to Laing in the autumn of 2011 to head up some department or other back in the key Olympics construction corporation he had been working alongside for so long.

Laing O’Rourke became the key player in the Olympics construction business when back in September 2006, as part of the CLM consortium along with CH2M Hill and Mace, it won the contract to run the Olympics building programme in dubious circumstances. The Mail quoted an ‘industry source’ at the time as saying: "There was much surprise that Bechtel, which has the most experience worldwide in this sort of thing, did not win. But then it has long been rumoured that O'Rourke made a substantial sum to the bid." Hardly a rumour in fact as Laing O’Rourke’s own annual report boasted that "Laing O'Rourke was the sole construction company sponsor contributing to the 2012 Olympic Games team" and the ODA confirmed that the company had provided money and other support for the bid team but refused to disclose the details because they were ‘commercially confidential’, another long-standing industry and Olympics practice.

Of course, back when the critical decisions were made on awarding the Olympics construction contract the ODA rehearsed another often repeated mantra: “All bids were assessed against a wide range of criteria. CLM emerged as preferred bidder after a rigorous process". This in an industry in which price fixing at the time was "long-standing in the industry and widely regarded as legitimate"!

Another fortunate transfer concerned Paul Williamson, formerly of Ticketmaster, who was taken on by LOCOG in 2007. Then in July 2009, with Mr Williamson in the booth, so to say, his old company Ticketmaster was selected to sell tickets for London 2012. A case of the right man in the right place at the right time? Yet again we were told a ‘rigorous assessment’ had been undertaken to ensure ‘the best all-round service and value’ despite previous failures at the Beijing Olympics followed by further failures in London.

All this moving around and getting together must make them all feel like they belong to one big happy family.

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