Member Profile – MPB Structures
Intro: Patrick Boyle is Director of MPB Structures, a privately owned company, working in the Reinforced Concrete Sub and Superstructure packages, Civil Engineering and Rail sectors. He’s also a member of the CONSTRUCT Council. Here, he tells us about his business, his ambitions for the council and his hopes for the industry’s future.
Tell us a little bit about the company and your own career
MPB Structures has fundamentally changed since its inception. When we started, we were a labour-only subcontractor who relied on our clients to supply the materials. Now we’re a fully integrated delivery business for concrete structures, whether building or civil, with over 800 people working for us.
I’ve been fortunate to have been able to work alongside my wonderful father since the company’s very first day of trading in 1987. He was brave enough to start his first business in his early 50s, having been involved in projects such as oil rig construction, nuclear power stations and major infrastructure. He was an ops director for two large Irish contractors, and then he decided to go it alone. He’s now 85 and still very active in the business. I studied engineering at Robert Gordon’s University in Aberdeen and having worked in the North Sea for a couple of years, I was delighted to join and support my father’s new venture.
As a family-owned business of over 30 years trading, I’m delighted to say that we’re recognised as a UK Top 10 concrete frame contractor. Over the last ten years, we have consistently been included in the Construction News’ Top 10 – we’ve been as high as 6th and no less than 8th.
We’ve also been both Civil Engineering and Building award winners at the Concrete Society Awards for the Harding-B Oil platform and the 160-metre tall Beetham Hilton hotel in Manchester.
We have constructed signature buildings in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Cardiff, Birmingham and London, for which we’re very proud. We’re unlike other businesses in the sense that we’re not M25-centric so, although we do work in London, we’ve done things like build the Glasgow Science Centre, and we built phases of the Exhibition Centre in Edinburgh.
We also have very little staff turnover – we have people who’ve worked with us for more than 25 years, and hundreds of our staff have been with us for a long time. Our clients are always drawn to our flat ‘owner-driver’ approach and our safe delivery of their projects. We always ensure we’re moving the business forward by both growing and innovating.
What motivated you to join the CONSTRUCT Council?
I joined the CONSTRUCT Council as I’m sufficiently confident in understanding our sector and would like to influence decisions for the betterment of everyone, especially for our concrete frame members. As you get more mature you become more politicized, and less able to accept things that aren’t correct. So by joining the council, I’ll be able to work on solutions and decisions that affect our sector as part of the strong CONSTRUCT Board of Directors.
Whilst on the CONSTRUCT Council, is there anything you would like to achieve?
I would certainly like to add energy as a sector to the cause of ceasing or reducing the retentions being held by our customers. Why can’t we adopt the Piling Association’s stand on zero retention being held? For example, in our own business we have £6.5million in retention being held, and when you’re in a 2-4% net margin business, cash is important. So, I’d certainly be in favour of changing that to, for example, a bond being provided; this cause needs further lobbying to obtain government support.
Has your company been affected by the labour and material shortage crisis? Are there any actions you’re taking?
I think our company is a great barometer as we’re spread across the country, and my view is the market is finally warming due to increased investor confidence post-covid. What’s influenced concrete frame structure’s lack of growth in the last 18 months comes down to a few things. Firstly, the general election. This was very important as there was no-one making any decisions with a hung parliament. Secondly, Brexit, and then finally, Covid. We’ve had 18 months of stagnant growth, but now, the people who release the funds for £150million apartment schemes have finally decided that all the ducks are in a row and it’s likely to be a success, so that’s starting to filter through the supply chain and jobs are finally getting started. We’ve had contracts that we haven’t been able to start because they’ve been deferred, and this has affected everyone.
The market is finally warming, and investor confidence may have increased, however the price inflation of circa 10% is a significant worry to all. Concrete’s more expensive, plywood’s gone from £29 a sheet to £45 a sheet, and it’s worrying.
We as a business are increasing all of our stock materials due to concerns, not only on price but on delivery. We’re a concrete contractor and we use wood every day – we can’t not have wood, we can’t not have plywood – so, we’re future-proofing what we need.
With regards to labour issues, in addition to the normal summer exodus of all frame contractors’ Eastern European operatives, the industry is facing a shortfall due to the rising market and the lack of young British workers. Apprenticeships have been failing and there’s not enough investment or enough concrete frame contractors going into schools and encouraging people to take a route other than going to university. We’re doing our bit, but we can all do a lot more.
What is your outlook for the concrete structures industry for the next 3 years?
I view the outlook for the next three years as positive. However, I believe there’ll be more consolidation in our sector; I think the stronger companies will get stronger, and I think the zero VAT regime hurts the working capital of smaller start-ups and middle sector companies.
I also think the influence of HS2 will have a major impact on the concrete frame world and I think our prices will be significantly higher because of the limited resource on labour and materials. So, I think we’re going to be in an inflationary world in the concrete frame sector, driven by lack of resources and competing with larger infrastructure projects on concrete and reinforcement.
Overall, I think the outlook’s positive but it’s going to be an inflationary world. Hopefully the result is that frame contractors will consequentially have better returns and there’ll be more investment into our sector in terms of recruitment and training. There’s no integrated approach to the challenges we have, but I believe that as a sector we’ve responded well to the recent challenges. In our business we feel as though we’ve never worked so hard for so little, and I think as a sector we’ve responded extraordinarily well to the pressures and that’s a credit to all the members. I feel optimistic about the future.