19 June 2003 | David Arminas
UK firms are getting conflicting advice over how to win a slice of Iraq's reconstruction work.
US construction and engineering firm Bechtel, contracted by USAid to hand out up to £420 million of work, told British suppliers they should send staff to Iraq for the best chance of landing contracts.
At a London briefing for more than 1,000 potential suppliers, Tom Elkins, Bechtel's head of procurement, urged the top-level executives to set themselves apart from their competition: "Don't be in London or Washington, be in Iraq."
He said being in Iraq looking for work showed commitment, although he warned potential subcontractors that they could not expect any security support from Bechtel.
But Trade Partners UK, the government organisation that provides support services for companies trading overseas, says suppliers should stay at home.
"We wouldn't advise anybody to go out there," a spokesperson told SM.
"Stay put until it is safe, at least until they stop shooting coalition soldiers.
"Anyway, there is no Iraq administration in place, so who would you ask about rebuilding government buildings?"
Colin Adams, chief executive of the British Consultants and Construction Bureau, an independent lobby group supporting UK construction companies looking for overseas contracts, warned subcontractors to be "very careful".
He told SM: "Executives going to Iraq will need close protection, which is expensive. Like post-war Afghanistan and Kosovo before it, Iraq is still a lawless place. The byword is be careful out there."
One construction executive told SM he would face a weekly insurance premium of £1,800 if he were to go now.
Harry Legge-Bourke, marketing director of Olive Group, a UK-based security outfit that employs former SAS soldiers, said good corporate security involved more than hiring armed escorts.
"It also involves securing a working base and setting out all the logistics for project operations," he said.
Legge-Bourke, a former captain in the Welsh Guards and aide de camp to Lord Guthrie, chief of defence staff, said a four-man "close protection team" can cost about £500 a day per executive, before equipment and expenses are calculated.
Halcrow, a UK engineering company and one of five British companies that have been awarded Bechtel subcontracts, advises that the dangers and high costs of doing business make it suitable for companies "only interested in a long-term presence".