NZCF conference: Thar she blows

This year’s Contractors’ Federation conference, held in Paihia in the Bay of Islands, managed to get the perfect combination of good quality speakers, excellent food and plenty of wine.  BY MARY SEARLE

NZCF_1.jpgThe conference was well attended, with 240 delegates, plus partners, from around the country. In fact, the only thing not coming to the party, so to speak, was the weather – the winterless north treated us to howling gales and torrential rain. Fortunately, aside from the few people who missed flights out of Keri Keri, this didn’t matter much at all.

The conference opened with the super-serious stuff. President Dave Jewell, in his welcoming address, shared his concerns about the weaknesses of low-cost tendering, which can lower standards. He encouraged clients to adopt different strategies that ensure long-term viability of contractors.

He is also concerned about the push for heavier loads on trucks, saying the number of trucks on the road dictates the life of the road, also the millions that will have to be spent on upgrading bridges could be a huge cost to the country and he would like to see more debate on this issue before it happens.

NZCF_2.jpgNZCF CEO Jeremy Sole raised his concerns around a disturbing trend by local government to consolidate contracts, citing Marlborough and Gisborne districts as examples of where several smaller contracts have been bundled together into larger packages, at times targeting outside tenderers. Sole says that although contracts shouldn’t favour anyone, if local contractors don’t get the work, there’s a risk they could fold.

The third speaker was Minister for Infrastructure Bill English. He had a largely positive message to deliver, including the fact that Government has started discussions with local authorities on including their projects in a wider, national infrastructure plan.

Speaking on behalf of the NZ Transport Agency, general manager capital projects Colin Crampton explained further the routes of national significance, saying that by working on corridors rather than a series of small projects, the NZTA is able to reduce churn in the planning and development cycle, and it allows more choice in components to ensure the optimal arrangements are reached.

NZCF_3.jpgHe also told delegates that the Government has been clear that the NZTA is to continue expenditure to keep the industry busy – to maintain capability and work volume.

The next speaker was Geoff Swainson, infrastructure and development manager for Local Government New Zealand. He spoke of the difficulties local government has with rates not being perceived as having value – it seems rate payers haven’t yet worked out the link between rates and services. Yet 27 percent of local authority expenditure is on roads, and the majority of the rest on other infrastructure such as water and wastewater, solid waste, regulation and planning, and parks and reserves.

With regards to procurement and the issues that Jeremy Sole raised, Swainson says he has some issues with where things are headed at the moment and warns contractors to be wary of bigger councils and bigger bundles of work. However, he recommends regular liaison with councils and using the political process to make your views known.

NZCF_4.jpgThe conference then broke into concurrent business sessions, which enabled delegates to choose preferred topics of interest. These ranged from the implications of the Resource Management Act reform, to how to grow and manage your contracting business to project overviews.

In the evenings things got a lot less serious, especially at the CablePrice ‘Wenches and Whalers’ dinner, where harpoons and low cut blouses seemed to be the order of the day. There’s really no need to wax lyrical about the success of the evening and conference in general, the pictures say it all.   

Shell People Awards
NZCF/Hirepool Construction Awards

Contractor Vol.33  No.8  September 2009
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