Category Archives: UK Contracting

Thames Island Airport Plan | Boris Island

As Boris Johnson enjoyed an aerial tour over Hong Kong’s Chek Lap Kok airport he was showing us that his plan for a Thames Island airport also known as Boris Island is structurally achievable. Chek Lap Kok airport was built on land reclaimed from the sea and although only completed in 1998 is the world’s busiest cargo airport and not quite in the top 10 for passenger numbers. It was planned and designed by British companies – the architectural practice of Lord Foster, engineering group Mott MacDonald and structural engineers Arup.

In a report in the FT, while still in Hong Kong, Boris Johnson said ” It is hugely impressive yet also devastatingly depressing when you consider that, as long as the vision for aviation in the UK remains steadfastly wedded to Heathrow or make-do solutions, we will not be able to access many of the mega-airports opening here or in the many other dynamic economies building new airfields around the globe.”

Lord Foster’s practice has already produced designs for an inner estuary airport on an artificial island on the Thames. The mayor’s most recent proposal is for a giant outer estuary airport on the Isle of Grain. The proposal includes an international railway station which would take passengers to Waterloo in 26 minutes, infrastructure improvements such as extending Crossrail and widening the M25 an extra lane in each direction for 36 miles. The entire project would cost around £65 billion and open in 2029.

Sir Howard Davies was appointed by David Cameron, the prime minister, to head up an independent Airports Commission to review the options for the expansion of UK airport capacity. An interim report is due in December this year and will list a handful of possible runway sites to be studied in more detail from more than 50 submissions. The final report will not be published till after the 2015 general election.

Sir Howard Davies has said that the provisional conclusion is that we will need some net additional runway capacity in the southeast of England in the coming decades and that the UK needs a hub airport where passengers transfer from short-haul aircraft to wide-body jets to ensure that airlines can profitably operate a broad range of long-haul routes. In an FT report he said “The big question looking forward is how big a hub do you need and how will the aviation market develop?”

Some of the options under consideration are:

  • Building new runways at Heathrow and Gatwick.
  • Building new runways at Gatwick and Stanstead but not Heathrow.
  • Rebuilding Standstead and turning it into a hub.
  • Building a new four runway hub on the Thames estuary.

With Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted, there are already problems such as being too close to built-up areas or requiring aircraft to fly low over London. The expansion of Heathrow would  require the demolition of parts of West London and an increase in noise and atmospheric pollution across the whole city. Conservationists are not keen on the proposal for the Thames estuary and if it went ahead then Heathrow is likely to close.

Will Boris Island ever come to pass? It may well do. The Airport Commission may favour his bolder project simply because it is so hard to predict future requirements. Regardless of which proposal succeeds there will be opportunities for architects, structural engineers, aviation experts, project managers and finance professionals.

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Big Data and Classifying the UK’s Digital Economy

The National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR) published a report last month which was funded by Google and one of its key findings was that the digital economy is poorly served by conventional definitions and datasets. Big data methods can provide richer, more informative and more up to date analysis.

According to NIESR the UK has between 270,000 and 471,000 digital companies while the government only records 187,600 in their statistics. The disparity in the figures arises due to the fact that the government still uses the Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) of Economic Activities system which was designed in 1948. NIESR claims this system is outdated and businesses are inaccurately defined by traditional sectors and the fact that they have moved to digital ways of working is overlooked.Their report uses data from independent research body, Growth Intelligence, a company that tracks the activity of firms on the internet using real-time databases and sells the information to clients.

According to the foreword in the report the myth pervades that the internet economy consists largely of tiny dot com and bio-tech start ups in a few technology clusters that quickly bubble up and go bust. It identified that what is actually happening is that the spread of the digital economy into other sectors is driving growth and jobs throughout the UK. Although London still dominates the digital economy there are strong concentrations of technology focused groups in regional areas such as Aberdeen, Middlesborough and Basingstoke. It also identified that that digital companies are working in traditional sectors such as publishing, architecture and engineering. To illustrate their point they give the example of the Scottish company, Kelton Engineering, which sells hi-tech equipment to the oil industry but is wrongly classified under the SIC system as “Business support”.

The Government’s Office for National Statistics (ONS) says that they are confident that their statistics reliably measure the jobs throughout the UK. NIESR says that companies that are wrongly classified could be missing out on investment because investors use classifications to identify potential investment targets. Speaking at the report’s launch, Business Secretary Vince Cable said the report adds to the very strong case for the Government to develop a “world class digital infrastructure”.

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Finance Staff Happy to Live Sheltered Lives

According to a recent interview in the FT with Sally Fisher, a Deloitte partner,  there is a real mis-match between the skills that companies need within finance and the types of skills that finance staff possess. Fisher, a specialist in organisation and change, believes that typically a third of the people in fiance are happy to lead sheltered lives focusing on the numbers.

In general senior finance executives tend to fit the common personality types of introverted thinker, reflective rather than social and often not strong on verbal communication. They have never been rewarded for innovation and the investment in skills development has focused largely on technical expertise. There is no shortage of people with the right technical skills but there is of people with the right behavioural skills. Finance staff need to be able to do the following:

  • Build relationships within finance and across departments and the hierarchy as well as break down silos. 
  • Inspire confidence in others by delivering messages with clarity and impact. Good verbal and written skills are a must.
  • To think strategically and avoid getting side tracked by low-priority issues and focus on the areas of of most importance.
  • Negotiate and influence and push forward the business strategy, diplomatically, once strategic alliances have been formed.
  • To acquire greater commercial acumen.

Sally Fisher would like organisations to focus on:

  • Knowing where the value is in each business area & where the greatest costs are
  • Create the skills to bulid trusted adviser relationships
  • Use the numbers to provide insight into the business strategy
  • Use communication skills to get the business to listen
  • Lead rather than just provide a service function

To read the complete article just click here.

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Opportunities for Ireland Post G8

The G8 Summit held on the shores of Lough Erne in Northern Ireland, just a few miles from Enniskillen, is expected to give a boost to the economy on both sides of the border. This summit was hosted by David Cameron representing the UK and attended by the heads of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and United States. Enda Kenny, Ireland’s Taoiseach (PM), attended in his capacity as President of the EU.

Enda Kenny was most likely pleased to have the opportunity to be at the summit but with the crafting of the “Lough Erne Declaration” on taxes there may have been some uncomfortable moments for him as well as long term implications for his country. Politicians both sides of the border will have been delighted to have the opportunity to promote tourism in Ireland. The pictures of these world leaders in such a beautiful setting sans umbrellas was a gift.

Northern Ireland is a prime European location for software development and IT support services. According to the FT, specialisation in IT security and financial services technology has attracted investment from places such as the New York Stock Exchange and the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. Universities are expanding IT courses to keep pace with demand and there is a plan to increase the number of IT employees in the province from 28,000 to 50,000 by 2018.

Across the border things are looking up on the IT front with companies in Dublin such as Google, Facebook, Linkedin and Microsoft based there. A lot of the jobs will not be in IT development but in sales, marketing, customer support, management and administration. The arrival of Facebook will also have resulted in an influx of multi-lingual people to support their operations in places like Spain, Italy and the Nordic Countries. Microsoft will have more IT development work taking place at their Dublin campus as will the IBM Smarter Cities Technology Centre.

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Got non-EEA Dependents? Money & Not Love Will Conquer All

On 11 June 2012 the Government announced changes to the Immigration Rules for non-European Economic Area (non-EEA) nationals applying to enter or remain in the UK on the family migration route. The changes came into effect for new applicants from the 9th July 2012 and were a response to the pressure on the government to reduce the number of immigrants. The expectation of the Home Office was that the changes would significantly reduce the number of family visas. The full details of the changes are available on UKBA’s website.

An All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) Family Migration enquiry was launched on 20 November 2012 to explore the impact of the new rules and their report was released yesterday. The main focus of the enquiry was on the following point:

The new minimum income requirement of £18,600 for British nationals and permanent residents (‘UK sponsors’) seeking to sponsor a non-EEA spouse or partner, rising to £22,400 to sponsor a child in addition and a further £2,400 for each further child included in the application; and the new rules on sponsorship of non-EEA adult dependents applying to come to the UK.

Over 280 submissions were received by the inquiry committee, including over 175 submissions from families who had been adversly affected by the rules. Charities, lawyers, local authorities, businesses and MPs submitted written evidence.
The key official findings are:

  1. Some British citizens and permanent residents in the UK, including people in full-time employment, have been separated from a non-EEA partner and in some cases their children as a result of the income requirement.
  2. Some British citizens and permanent residents have been prevented from returning to
    the UK with their non-EEA partner and any children as a result of the income requirement.
  3. Some children, including British children, have been indefinitely separated from a non-EEA parent as a result of the income requirement.
  4. The current permitted sources in order to meet the income requirement may not fully
    reflect the resources available to some families.
  5. The adult dependent relative visa category appears in effect to have been closed.

In general it is the rigid enforcement of the rules that is the problem. The proposed migrant’s salary cannot be taken into account when calculating the £18,600 even if they have a high salary. In practical terms it means that people with a right to live here cannot bring their high earning partner to live with them if they themselves are not working. They may be looking after their children and have no plans to work or to become a drain on the public purse. If their children were born in a non-EEA country and require a visa the bar to entry is set even higher. The UK misses out on the skills of the ‘dependent’ migrant and the income tax revenue from their high salary. Some people have had to claim benefits when that was never their plan and their children are then growing up in a low income one parent family. In parts of the UK average income levels are well below £18,600 and so that level of income is then not achievable.

The APPG Migration Group had this to say

We urge Government to consider the emerging evidence about what must be the unintended consequences of these rules, and hope they will agree the need fully to review whether, one year on from their introduction, these rules have struck the right balance between different interests.

Increasingly young people are working abroad as part of their career development and when starting a personal relationship are probably not thinking about the complexities of immigrations systems. It would be odd if they were. In the first flush of romance they are more likely to believe that love conquers all.

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IBM Smarter Cities

” On a smarter planet, we want to change the paradigm from react to anticipate” is the slogan of the IBM Smarter Planet global initiative which was started five years ago. IBM Smarter Cities is part of the smarter planet programme. The video Smarter Planet – a UK Introduction gives an idea of how it may impact on our lives.
With the arrival of Big Data, through the use of analytics, mobile technology, social business and the cloud it is now becoming possible to transform how enterprises and institutions operate. The embedding of sensors in cars, roads, cameras, roads, pipelines, appliances is happening and systems are beginning to ‘speak’ to each other which results in the capture of masses of data in backend systems. This data can be mined and analysed and if the queries are structured intelligently should produce information on better ways of doing or organising things.

The IBM Research – Ireland lab is IBM Smarter Cities Technology Centre and conducts research in water, energy, transportation, city fabric, risk, exascale computing, and marine environments in collaboration with top universities, cities, and industry partners. The leading academic institutions involved are Cambridge University, the Australian National University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne and Trinity College Dublin.

Researchers at NUI Maynooth have received €2.3m of funding for a major five-year project which will analyse how software and technology can influence life in a city. The focus will be on two cities: Dublin and Boston in the US. Boston is ranked number one on a global index of ‘smart’ cities while Dublin is a key technology hub in Europe. The research is  funded by a five-year ERC (European Reaserch Council) grant.

Some Findings on Dublin as a Smart City

  • A 2007 study of traffic congestion revealed that even though small if taken as a percentage of gross domestic product then Dublin was the world leader in this sphere over cities such as Manila, Dakar and Mexico City. The challenge was and still is to maintain the historic fabric of the city and  improve the transport network without any major re-development. Dublin City Council has been collecting and analysing data, in partnership with IBM and journey time information is now released and updated every minute.Residents can go online and find the quickest route to their destination. This is just the beginning and eventually people will be updated on problems via their mobiles while on route to their destinations and advice on alternative means of completing their journeys will be given which may be bicycle, tram, taxi or even on foot.
  • IBM’s vision for water is stated as

    Our vision is an intelligent, integrated, and instrumented water system for our cities of the future, where both the quantity and quality of our water resources is constantly being monitored, predicted, and optimized, from rain to drain and back again.

    The citizens of Dublin could vouch for the fact that even when there is a strong bond between rain and drain, over a prolonged period of time, that they still have water shortages. A Dublin City report states that 29 percent of the water produced never reaches the consumer due to water leaking from the city’s distribution system. This is due to the age of the network and many of the pipes are in such poor condition that they are prone to bursts, leaks and low water pressure. Replacing the infrastructure is a costly, time-consuming and disruptive especially when streets need to be dug up.

    To reduce the amount of water lost Dublin City Council in collaboration with IBM is combining analytics, sensor data, and optimization models to find the best places in the network to install pressure reducing valves. Once installed, the models recommend the best settings to minimize leakage while meeting the requirements of the city. Dublin’s Chapelizod area showed potential to reduce leakage up to 44 percent, allowing water providers to serve 15 percent more households without investment in more production capacity or adversely affecting consumers.

‘Garbage in garbage out’ still holds true so human intelligence is a requirement for digital smartness. There are and will be no shortage of jobs for big data scientists, big data analysts and others but there will be a shortage of suitably qualified people to fill the posts.

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Can SAP Dance in the Cloud?

There is an unspoken rule that startups do not combine open source technology with commercial technology according to Dan Woods, writing for Forbes. He explains that for startups dependent on Big Data this rule may have to be broken as suitable open source applications are not yet available to work with MapReduce and Hadoop.

So what does MapReduce do?

A simple  example of how it is used is given by Jen Cohen Crompton in a SAP blog:

A consumer retail brand is looking to identify the most frequently purchased products (the top three) from a cross-section of customers as part of a market research initiative focused on merchandising. Let’s say they are looking for data on women within a specific geographic area, which is information provided in each customer profile stored in their CRM database. There might be 2,000 women meeting the identified qualifications and therefore, this big data set needs to be sorted.

The input data for this query would be the profiles of the individual customers within the specifications. After the query is created and sent, the mapping function would sort through the profiles, then identify and send the most frequently purchased products to the reducer. The reducer would compare and aggregate the data generated from each map task and return an output file featuring the top three most frequently purchased products from the cross-section.

The MapReduce process is key in sorting through the big data that might be available when submitting a query. The goal is to create the most accurate output in the shortest amount of time.


Rafael Coss of IBM gives a similar explanation in his YouTube video:

And what does Hadoop do?

The official explanation is available here.

A good explanation is given by Jen Cohen Crompton here

Overall, Hadoop enables applications to work with huge amounts of data stored on various servers. Hadoop’s functions allow the existing data to be pulled from various places (since now, data is not centralized, but distributed in places using cloud technology) and use the MapReduce technology to push the query code and run a proper analysis, therefore returning the desired results.

As for the more specific functions, Hadoop has a large-scale file system (Hadoop Distributed File System or HDFS), it can write programs, it manages the distribution of programs, then accepts the results, and generates a data result set.

Hadoop’s main shortcoming is that it is a batch type system and not useful for real time processing which is necessary for real time analytics if business value is to be extracted from Big Data. Hadoop development requires advanced expertise and MapReduce is a complex form of programming. There are projects underway that will in the fullness of time provide open source applications to deal with these problems. In the meantime SAP HANA is available to startups where time to market is crucial but it is a licensed solution. According to SAP their solution will

Run your business in real real time. SAP and partner solutions powered by SAP HANA can help you dramatically accelerate analytics, business processes, predictive analysis, and sentiment data processing – all on a single in-memory computing platform.


SAP is doing its best to answer the challenges presented to it by the arrival of the cloud and Big Data. Most of the big companies with whom they have long established relationships want their data kept safely in SAP’s data storage centres and some have more data than a few of the biggest cloud users. SAP has started running existing corporate applications on HANA for these customers in its own data centres. This is giving their staff direct contact with office workers for the first time which should improve usability and their profile.

New cloud application companies appeal directly to office workers by giving them free applications and charging further down the line for enhanced developments. Young companies have no ties to old IT and are free to build on new computing architecture and thereby depriving companies like SAP of future customers. The company has launched a $155 million fund partially to encourage use of SAP HANA by startups. For it to be adopted by this fraternity it needs to become easy for them to download and experiment with to see where Hadoop and SAP HANA can work together and have a reasonable pricing model.

Can SAP Dance in the Cloud?

Last month for the first time SAP broke down their sales figures for their cloud business from their other sales and this showed that revenue from HANA had tripled year-on-year to £86 million. When Bill McDermott, co-chief executive was asked to comment by the FT he responded with “We said that we would focus on the cloud, mobile and big data. We can grow as fast as them and gain share against them, so why not break it out and show SAP can dance – and that’s what we’re doing, we’re dancing,”

Click How Hadoop and SAP HANA can Accelerate Big Data Startups to read the full article by Dan Woods.

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Jobs for Oil, Gas & Renewable Energy Consultants in Aberdeen

A report published in Novemeber 2012 by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) revealed that Aberdeen was one of the three happiest locations in the UK – Oxford and Reading/Bracknell were the others – and the most contented in Scotland. With Aberdeen this is due in no small part to their second oil boom which continues to bring prosperity to the area.

In March 2013 the Scottish Government announced consent for the development of the European Offshore Wind Deployment Centre (EOWDC) in Aberdeen Bay.The development of offshore wind, wave and tidal energy offers a new field of technology and expertise. Only 2% of residents claim benefits. Jobs are plentiful in Aberdeen, highly specialised and well paid. The skills are transferable to most places in the world.

The prosperity brings its own problems it seeems. “Aberdeen is the only place in the country that is suffering from the challenges of success rather than the problems of failure.” Robert Collier, CEO of the Aberdeen and Grampian Chamber of Commerce told the Guardian. The biggest concerns are housing, transport and a shortage of skilled energy sector workers.

The housing shortage is so severe that it is difficult to get a bed in the youth hostel during the working week. If you do manage to book in to go walking in the hills you may find plenty of oil workers to chat to in the evenings. House prices in the area have more than doubled in the last ten years. For those who manage to ‘find their feet’ Robert Collier has encouraging news “We also have two very strong universities here, and 30% of all Scotland’s food and drink exports come from here. Our tourism and biosciences sectors are flourishing, and there is social and cultural hinterland beyond with great skiing facilities and the Cairngorms national park nearby.” There are plans to extend the airport runway, improve shipping channels and the entrance to Aberdeen Harbour, create an Olympic sized swimming pool and an iconic university library building.

In the opinion of PwC Aberdeen needs to recruit 120,000 skilled workers over the next 10 years or risk losing its place as one of the world’s great energy centres. Half the local industry’s workforce is aged over 45 and so just replacing them is a challenge in itself. With the planned and potential increases in activity there is the added challenge of recruiting these new people to work in Aberdeen while competing for staff with other oil and gas centres around the globe. There are and will be opportunities for consultants in oil, gas and renewable energy for the forseeable future.

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Record Investment Flowing into the North Sea as Oil Flows Again

Oil and gas engineering contractors and consultants roll up, roll up and hear the good news!

According to BBC News a consortium of oil companies is to invest more than £330m in an appraisal drilling programme which could lead to the development of a massive Atlantic field. The BP-led consortium said drilling had already started on the first of five wells planned over the next two years at Clair, West of Shetland.

Oonagh Werngren,Oil and Gas UK‘s Operations Director, said: “We welcome the news that BP is investing significantly in appraising the third phase of its Clair field to the west of Shetland. By applying the latest technologies, BP and its partners have, through continued investment over a number of years, unlocked significant potential that had previously lain unexplored. The Clair field is proving that there are exciting giant fields still to be explored on the UKCS.

There have been other announcements in recent months. The UK sanctioned $7bn investment by Statoil of Norway in the Mariner field which requires pioneering technology and will bring hundreds of high skilled, long-lasting oil and gas jobs across the country. It is expected to produce oil and gas for thirty years.

The change in North Sea Oil fortunes is partly due to the emergence of new technology that has helped extract reserves from sites that were in the past classed as uneconomic and are referred to as ‘awkward squad’ fields. According to a report in the FT, Malcolm Webb, Chief Executive of Oil and Gas UK Group,the capital investment in new fields will rise from £11.4bn last year to £13bn in 2013. There is a five fold increase in production on the average for the past three years resulting in 470 million barrels of oil and gas coming on stream.

The other influence has been the government’s series of tax allowances promoting the exploitation of small and technically challenging fields. A strategy document entitled ‘UK Oil & Gas – Business and Government action. You can access a copy here.

This industry provides a source of employment for over 400 thousand people across the UK.

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Wealthy Global Investors Favour Silicon Roundabout

According to a report in the FT entrepreneurs from around the world are attracted to the UK’s fastest growing business sectors including the rapidly expanding IT start-up sector centered around the Silicon Roundabout.

Where is it?

Old Street roundabout in London is referred to as Silicon Roundabout owing to the number of web start-up companies in the area. It sits on the northern fringe of the centuries-old financial hub, the City of London. In September 2011 Google acquired a  building  in the area which has since been transformed into a Google Campus comprised of  seven floors of co-working space, a café and events space for start-up companies and entrepreneurs.

According to  International Law Firm Pinsent Masons the number of wealthy foreign investors issued with specialist ‘investor visas’ allowing these people to stay in the UK has rocketed in the past year. The figure has risen to 462 at the end of a 12 month period ending in June 2012 compared with 199 in the same period a year earlier.

Simon Horsfield, the head of Pinsent Masons’ business immigration team says: “The UK, and London in particular, remains hugely attractive to wealthy individuals from around the globe. Foreign nationals still see London as an expat friendly gateway to Europe. London offers both political stability and a very transparent legal system. Investors see prime property in the capital as a very attractive and liquid asset. Prime property prices in London have remained stable or even increased despite the global downturn, which is a real lure for High Net Worths.”

These start-ups will also need talented engineers and other creative people. David Cameron on his visit to India last week announced that there is no cap on foreign students allowed in Britain provided they have basic English and an offer to study at a UK university. It is not just from India that we need them. These entrepreneurs and students will boost our economy through their expertise, innovative ideas and job creation. Making them welcome is the way forward for us.

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* Obtain a Tier 1 Exceptional Talent visa.


* Find an employer able to employ you on a Tier 2 (general) work visa.

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