In this article, Duncan talks about some of the contracts the company maintain and the difficulties associated with H&S, staff recruitment, training and tendering
I had previously worked as a Technical Representative for Fisons Amenity, representing the company in Scotland, and was also Sales Manager for an Edinburgh based sportsturf contracting company. Maggie was working in the PR Department for BP Oil in Edinburgh at that time.
We made the joint decision to start our own company back in 1985. I went out on the road and Maggie looked after the office side of the business. We decided to expand the areas of sport which included the sales of amenity products, sports equipment and specialised sports clothing, which the company still supplies to the present day, to local authorities and sports clubs.
The main areas of the business today have centred on sports turf maintenance and construction, and drainage of sports facilities.
Over the years, the company has grown and now employs seventeen staff, with the majority working within the Perth & Kinross county area.
In 2003, we entered into a partnership agreement to maintain the fine and outfield turf sports facilities for Perth & Kinross Council. The total area of 7000km2 makes Perth & Kinross the fifth largest land mass in Scotland and, within this area, we maintain over two hundred pitches, which include football, rugby, hockey and shinty, as well as school athletics, artificial surfaces, six bowling greens and an eighteen hole golf course.
The North Inch Golf Course lies beside the banks of the River Tay, as it flows through the city of Perth. It is reputed to be one of the oldest courses in Scotland and was played by King James IV of Scotland (1473-1513).
Although it is picturesque on a summer's day, the river can cause serious problems to the course. In 1993, the course was completely flooded when the river burst its banks - the course was re-designed then to become a flood plain as the first line of defence for the town.
A stream now runs through the new back nine and backs up when the river rises, reducing the course to just nine playable holes. The latest major flood was in 2009, which washed away ten bunkers and one complete tee.
The company has recently started an artificial pitch cleaning and maintenance service, with the purchase of a Hörger SKU 1500 cleaning machine, which has proved to be a great investment. Part of our council contract is to maintain five artificial surfaces, and we have found out, over the years, that brushing alone was not sufficient on the 2G surfaces, so we decided to purchase specialised equipment for maintenance. We are now carrying out this work the length and breadth of Scotland to local authorities, schools, colleges and prisons.
The company has just completed a reconstruction and drainage project for Carlisle Council, and is currently working on a football pitch construction project outside Selkirk in the Scottish Borders. Forest Pitch is a community arts project, funded as part of the twelve projects being created across Britain for the 2012 Cultural Olympics.
It is a completely unique situation. Initially, 2,000 trees had to be felled and the stumps removed. The trees were kept on site as they will be used to build a clubhouse/shelter, but the 290 tonnes of stumps were taken away to a recycling centre. Currently, we are at the formation level stage. The ground itself is predominantly clay and, with July being as wet as it is, earthworks are having to be delayed. Topsoil and sand will be brought into the site and, after levelling, seeding, etc., we will look at the drainage next year. When the pitch is finished, it will be used for two games on one day and then it will revert back to nature, with some natural species of tree replanted to encourage a more diverse environment. More information on this £460,000 project is available at www.forestpitch.org
Health & Safety
Although these projects are exciting, the main day-to-day work is the bread and butter of the business. We have invested heavily over the past ten years in machinery and staff training. The biggest change we have found in our work, is that so much now comes from Health & Safety issues. Although a lot of people complain about Health & Safety legislation, we have decided to put this issue as our number one priority. In 2005, I decided to go back to college and undergo NEBOSH training in Health & Safety. Being a small company and employing external consultants is a considerable overhead, and we now carry out all our Health & Safety training in-house. All McNab Sport staff are trained to carry out on-site risk assessments, which has saved the company a lot of time and expense.
The company puts great emphasis on training, with regular 'toolbox talks' geared mostly towards Health & Safety, which we get different staff to organise during the year.
Costs and Budgeting
Scotland has a big landmass and the cost of transport is now becoming a major overhead with the price of fuel and haulage. We are having to look at this much closer. If, for example, we are asked to vertidrain a bowling green in Inverness, which is a 260 mile round trip, the cost of labour and transport can almost cost as much as the operation. It can be very difficult to pass this overhead on to the customer, as we tend to be dealing with small clubs who sometimes do not appreciate the scale of these additional costs.
The vagaries of the Scottish climate are always an issue. At the end of 2010, we had heavy snowfall which lay for almost twelve weeks. As there is only a limited time which can be spent on machinery maintenance during these 'down times', it can be very difficult to keep staff motivated. It also puts a big financial demand on the company.
This year, we have had a very wet period in June and July, which causes problems with our short, two month window of opportunity to get the sports pitches ready for the season.
With the reduction in public spending, I foresee that specialised contractors may have the opportunity of operating public facilities and, provided these are contracted out in reasonable periods before re-tendering takes places, this could be the future for specialised sports contractors.
Staff and Recruitment
When we were awarded the contract for Perth & Kinross Council, staff were transferred over to ourselves under TUPE (The Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 2006) and we also recruited our own staff of trained personnel for the fine turf work, as the existing staff did not have the training for golf course work.
Our staff have all been trained in their particular profession. Our Head Greenkeeper, Glenn Campbell (who plays off a golf handicap of plus 3 and has represented Scotland in amateur golf tournaments over thirty times), runs the course with two assistants, who have worked on the course for the past eight years.
Outside of grass cutting, we have a team who carry out all other work such as selective spraying, hydrojecting, topdressing, linemarking, etc. The same team carry out the specialised work on football and rugby pitches, which includes spiking, fertilising, overseeding and selective weed control.
The sportsground team were recruited from the agricultural industry rather than the sports turf industry, because we felt that they had the basic skills required for the work, and also a much better understanding of different machinery.
One of our main problems in recruiting is staff being able to drive vehicles pulling a trailer. If they passed their test after 1997, they must sit an additional trailer test which, including the training costs of around £500 per person, can put a huge financial burden on the company.
Tendering for new work
We find a lot of time is now being spent on filling up pre-tender questionnaires for local government and the raft of legislation that goes with it. I appreciate that it is important to have supplier information, Health & Safety, etc. but do we really need to fill in a twenty page document every time for each local authority? Would it not be sensible to have a standard format where local authorities can draw this information from a central source, without having to complete this amount of paperwork each time we apply for a tender? I would like to hear other contractors views on this subject.
What is TUPE?
The Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 2006 (SI 2006/246), known colloquially as TUPE, are the United Kingdom's implementation of the European Union Business Transfers Directive.
It is an important part of UK labour law, protecting employees whose business is being transferred to another business. The 2006 regulations replace the old 1981 regulations (SI 1981/1794) which implemented the original Directive.
The regulations' main aims are to ensure that, just because of the transfer, employees are not dismissed before or after (unless there is an 'economic, technical or organisational') reason, employees' most important terms and conditions of contracts are not worsened before or after the transfer, affected employees are informed and consulted through representatives
This does not apply to transfers which go merely through the sale of a company's shares. When that happens, because the company is still the same company, all contractual obligations stay the same. The Directive and Regulations apply to other forms of transfer, through sale of physical assets and leases. The regulations also apply, in some cases, for work transferred to contractors. These protected contract terms for workers include hours of work, pay, length of service and so on, but pension entitlement is excluded.
Imagine a company that has in-house cleaners. The company decides that they want to tender-out the contract for cleaning services. The new company that takes over the work may employ the same cleaners. If it does so, TUPE will make it likely that the new employer will have to employ the cleaners subject to the same terms and conditions as they had under the original employer.
If any staff are dismissed by either employer for a reason connected with the new arrangement, this will automatically be deemed an unfair dismissal and the new employer will be liable for any statutory claims arising as a result.
This is also the case where a target business (as distinct from shares in a company) is bought from company A by company B (often much larger) and integrated with the business of company B.