back to article Subcontractors working on CityFibre's £45m Derby rollout threaten to 'rip up tarmac' in dispute over payments

Contractors helping to lay fibre cables under streets in Derby have threatened to scrap their work and "rip up tarmac" they've laid – unless they get paid. A report by Construction Enquirer claims that subcontractors have also downed tools following the payment row. The cables are being laid for digital infrastructure outfit …

  1. Nifty Silver badge

    I can walk past 10 local building extension projects where they've started but no discernable work has happened for 2 months. In some cases scaffolding has been up for months or part building framed leaning on a wall for 6 weeks. Either all builders are doing bait and hold, or there's a chronic shortage of materials.

    1. katrinab Silver badge
      Unhappy

      There is a cronic shortage of materials and workers.

      1. The commentard formerly known as Mister_C Bronze badge
        Unhappy

        Don't know about workers, but as far as material goes...

        One readymix concrete supplier near us was (two months ago) down from 1000 m^3 per day to 80 m^3 - i.e. 1/12 normal capacity.

        We're being quoted steel prices 30% up since Easter - and that's after "inflation" rises earlier this year.

        Other products that would normally be two weeks lead time are currently 12 weeks.

        These figures were pre last week's pingdemic.

        w.r.t. ripping up the tarmac to recover cable because non-payment- I'd normally say "run the backhoe across the cable line to cut a couple of trenches and backfill with concrete" but even that won't work at the moment because concrete

        1. katrinab Silver badge
          Unhappy

          I suppose the cronic shortage of materials for the workers to work on is disguising the fact that if the materials were present on all currently active sites, you wouldn't be able to find enough workers.

          Of corse the cronic shortage of materials is due to a cronic shortage of workers further up the supply chain.

        2. a_builder

          There is no real shortage of concrete. We have a national account with a major producer and we get whatever quantity we want delivered at a few days notice.

          I am afraid it is blatant market manipulation. There is a shortage of bagged cement that small sites use but that is down to slow supplies to builders merchants.

          The steel prices increases are also opportunistic and everyone else is pilling in to have a bit of it.

          Time for the CMA to start looking into it.

          As far as ripping up tarmac once it is down: that would be criminal damage.

      2. Warm Braw Silver badge

        There is a cronic shortage of materials and workers

        Which is stoking inflation. And there's a looming shortage of food. And public sector wages and social benefits continue to fall in real terms: we're now in Austerity II. But there's now a massive expectation of a levelling-up Brexit benefit for all. And increasing unrest about the Covid response and its consequences. And parliament has risen - not that it was usefully venting public frustration when it was sitting. And it's hot and we're all stir crazy.

        Going to be an interesting Summer.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          “ there's now a massive expectation of a levelling-up Brexit benefit for all”

          There is? Who the fuck is expecting that?

          1. a pressbutton

            people who believe govt announcements.

          2. hittitezombie

            "You’ve got to remember that these are just simple farmers. These are people of the land. The common clay of the new West. You know… morons."

            1. a pressbutton

              and for those reading this in 2 years time ...

              People who believed govt announcements.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        > There is a cronic shortage of materials and workers.

        At last this Government might realise that its obsession with the construction industry and removal of planning restrictions isn't the panacea they seem to think it is. It's almost as if rebuilding (pun not intended) the economy is a bit more nuanced than simply making it easier for people to make their homes ever uglier by building over-large extensions.

    2. TVC

      I'm only having a small single storey extension to my house and nothing has happened for three weeks because of a lack of floor beams. People who I rent the site toilet from are doing OK as I pay the rent plus cleaning and emptying but it's not be used.

      Toilet company say its the same everywhere.

      1. ItWasn'tMe

        Shit not happening

        1. John Doe 12

          Thank you!! That comment made me smile :-D

    3. AndrueC Silver badge
      Meh

      Yeah there's a house near me that has been under sporadic extension for nearly three months now. This morning I heard some activity but it's the first I've heard in a week. Meanwhile their dining room is open to the air and has been for most of the time since their old conservatory was removed.

  2. Fonant

    Try buying cement, mortar or concrete, and you may well spot a distinct lack of the stuff. Even DIY projects are being held up.

    1. Flywheel Silver badge

      Yeah! Had to scratch around last week to buy a 10kg tub of mortar from Wickes. This week I was only able to get a 5Kg tub - they've had no deliveries since then and the shelves are practically empty.

    2. JohnG

      Local stores have been perpetually sold out of many materials. I found it useful to drive to stores with supplies of materials I needed to collect them myself - and this was typically about 2 hours away.

    3. goodjudge

      Also wood and many other building materials. Reasons that I've seen include:

      1) Covid shutting down suppliers, manufacturers and container ports around the world.

      2) Brexit - both the obvious, and also suppliers building up stocks for the 2 Brexit "deadlines" that came and went, in case of post-Brexit shortages, which led to price falls due to over-supply, so then Covid lockdowns gave a lot of people the chance to do a lot more DIY than usual at lower prices than usual, so the warehouses emptied and couldn't easily be refilled.

      3) the Ever-Given stranding causing delays to other shipping.

      4) HS2 getting first dibs on UK imports.

      From what I've been told, there is not going to be a return to normal across the materials supply industry for a long time to come.

      1. a_builder

        1) Covid shutting down suppliers, manufacturers and container ports around the world.

        Some truth in this but now overplayed

        2) Brexit - both the obvious, and also suppliers building up stocks for the 2 Brexit "deadlines" that came and went, in case of post-Brexit shortages, which led to price falls due to over-supply, so then Covid lockdowns gave a lot of people the chance to do a lot more DIY than usual at lower prices than usual, so the warehouses emptied and couldn't easily be refilled.

        A fallback excuse if I ever heard one.

        3) the Ever-Given stranding causing delays to other shipping.

        It was a massive ship but it seems to have got 100x bigger and being used as a handy excuse by everyone.

        4) HS2 getting first dibs on UK imports.

        Another handy excuse but that is not the way the supply chain works.

        There are not using bagged cement to HS2!! It all comes from a batching plant.

        From what I've been told, there is not going to be a return to normal across the materials supply industry for a long time to come.

        Let me rephrase that for you.

        "From what I've been told, there is not going to be a return to normal across the materials supply industry until either the supplies have made ludicrous profits and/or the CMA and EU starting fining the bejesus out the suppliers."

        FIFY

  3. nematoad Silver badge
    WTF?

    What!

    I'd like to know who the genius is who decided that it was a good idea to start digging up the roads in the busiest resort town on the Isle of Wight in the middle of the season.

    The queues and disruption are horrendous and like others here where the roads have been dug up half the time there is no-one there and if there is anyone on site most of their time seems to be spent having a brew-up.

    When finally the roads and pavements had been reinstated things got back to normal, for about a week, and then the gas network people moved in and dug up all the roads, again! And like their fibre laying brethren the holes are still not filled in and an eerie silence reigns.

    I am surprised that valuable plant and equipment can be so easily left just waiting to be stolen.

    1. Kevin Johnston

      Re: What!

      This has always been the way on the Island. Binstead High Street had different sections dug up for over two years continuously. When they finally finished and re-painted all the markings it was less than a week before the next hole appeared

    2. jason_derp Bronze badge

      Re: What!

      In my town (different country from yours), this is the first year ever where construction crews for the government actualy seem to be getting shit done. Holes appear over lunch time and the work is completed by next morning. It's bizarre, we're lucky to see a project get rolling on the way to "started" most years. Maybe we bought all the stuff everybody else needs and we need to use it to keep it?

  4. keithpeter Silver badge
    Windows

    HS2

    HS2 Birmingham plus Metro extension work.

    'Sedate' I think is the term I'd use. Total Absence of Hurry. Zen like attention to detail. Mindful application of a spanner to a sewage pipe spread over 10 minutes. With 3 operatives observing, one with tablet device to update the progress log (I assume).

    Large parts of centre out of bounds or partially inaccessible.

    "It will be nice when it is finished" is the alternative Brummie slogan. Forward! being the official one.

  5. elsergiovolador Silver badge

    Reason

    From my experience I can say that when a builder wants to destroy their work as a result of non-payment, usually it is to destroy any evidence of poor workmanship, so when there is a dispute in court, the client will have difficulty proving why they didn't want to pay.

    1. Mishak

      Re: Reason

      Not always the case though.

      I know of a local stone mason (one of the best in the area) who built a dry stone wall round a garden and had not been paid many months after the work was completed. He eventually rolled up in his truck and started to take it down and load the blocks. It was surprising how quickly he then got paid.

      The guy who owned the house was a "self-builder" (and general scallywag) who had managed to get himself on "account hold" with all the builders' merchants within a 100 mile radius...

      1. John Doe 12

        Re: Reason

        This scene in Only Fools And Horses (series 7 episode 1) should be made into a training video as it captures perfectly a certain type of customer who kick up endless dust in order to avoid paying bills:

        ----------------------------------------------

        Boycie – He’s gone, has he? Good. He’s been decorating my vestibule – made quite a good job of it, as it happens. I’m well pleased.

        Del – (Astounded) But you’ve refused to pay him!

        Boycie – No, no, Del Boy. I’ve refused to pay him the agreed price. It’s principle. I kick up a fuss, he don’t want the aggro or the publicity so he knocks 50 per cent off for good will. He gets a living wage and I save two hundred notes… It’s good business.

    2. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge
      FAIL

      Re: Reason

      In our case when a customer refused to pay on 'such and such' grounds where they were a sub-contractor to another company, we moved all their work to 'holding' and got on making other people's stuff

      Then we found out that our valued customer was in the process of stiffing other suppliers in the same way.

      Their aim was to bankrupt their sub-contractors so that they wouldn't have to pay their bills. thus keeping all the profits we'd make(and other suppliers make) for themselves

      Must have been hard for them to explain why the project was being held up for a lack of pressure housings we had no intention of finishing until we'd been paid for the 1st batch.

      And people wonder why I always want to go with the boss for the annual visit to a Birmingham customer..

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Reason

        "Their aim was to bankrupt their sub-contractors so that they wouldn't have to pay their bills."

        This is the way Donald Trump cut costs on his construction projects. The sub-contractors haven't the money or time to go to court, so they go bust. One of the many reasons why Trump is hated in his home town.

    3. mark l 2 Silver badge

      Re: Reason

      I expect that since its work on publicly owned pavements, even if the contractor did rip it all out, they would have to put the pavement, roads etc back to the state that it was before the work started. Or else the council will come to do the remedial works and then charge the contractor for it.

      So its just a empty thread since there is no benefit to the contractor to do this as it would cost them more than just to leave it as it.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Payment Terms missmatch

    I wonder if this is a payment terms mismatch between the main contractor and their subcontractors. I once worked on a contract where the main contractor had agreed to be paid on completion (of a 2-year project) but signed contracts with monthly payment terms to the sub-contractors. They then found their finances got very tight (because they had everyone working on one project that wouldn't be paid for another 12 months) and started trying to avoid paying the sub-contractors or claim that they didn't need to pay the subcontractors until they got paid themselves. We eventually threatened to declare them bankrupt as they claimed they appeared to be unable to pay invoices - that got their attention and they took out a bridging loan so they could pay their suppliers.

    1. Bogbody

      Re: Payment Terms missmatch

      I wonder how the main contractor would feel if the subby ripped up the pavments and then declared themself bankrupt?

      Thought the idea was that you set up a company to do the subby work and then closed that company when the work was complete thus avoiding all liabilities? That certainly was the way that a couple of house builders operated localy.

  7. Warm Braw Silver badge

    Our rollouts

    That's a very disrespectful way to refer to the people of Eastbourne. I'm sure many of them can still totter a few steps unaided.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Rip it up and start again.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ETAOp2yiMc0

    On my street they dug up the pavement on the corner, installed a cabinet and some lines, then filled in and buggered off.

    Then another lot came and dug it all up - apparently the first lot hadn't done it properly - and filled it in.

    Then they did it again, a third time!

    And all for what? Anybody that wants it round here has got Virgin Media co-ax; I am on the lowest tier and find it entirely adequate.

    Yes, eventually the technical advantages of FTTP will win out, but...

    1. A Known Coward

      Re: Rip it up and start again.

      I'm in a Cable area so like you I'm good, but prices have been steadily climbing for years above inflation. I'd welcome the availability of FTTP here, it may be naive to believe, but a bit of competition would hopefully shake up prices and reverse this upward trend.

      1. adam 40 Silver badge

        Re: Rip it up and start again.

        I have just given notice to Virgin. You have to "go all the way" with Virgin and give notice.

        And then they phone you up and offer a better price, first coming down to around £40 from current £55, and then eventually down to £24 a month, matching Now.

        It seems they must be bleeding customers.

    2. Jellied Eel Silver badge

      Re: Rip it up and start again.

      And all for what? Anybody that wants it round here has got Virgin Media co-ax; I am on the lowest tier and find it entirely adequate.

      That's the curious thing. CityFibre's building out in much the same markets as VM, presumably in the hope of convincing users to switch from VM's not-fibre-fibre to CF's real fibre. But AFAIK, CF doesn't sell retail and relies on partners to service customers. So Vodafone. But Vodafone's customers may be happy with wireless broadband, depending on their data plan.

      So CF's been spending a lot of money doing civils, and probably not a lot of revenue coming in. A few years ago I looked at their wholesale services, but their SLA's were.. vague, presumably due to a reliance on sub-contractors as their field force. Hello Kelleys! :p

      1. a_builder

        Re: Rip it up and start again.

        The only reasons to move away from VM are upstream bandwidth and reliability. Nether of which are great with VM.

        1. A Known Coward

          Re: Rip it up and start again.

          I think issues with reliability with VM depends heavily on which area you are in. In the nearly two decades I've been with VM (formerly NTL) at my current address I've only had issues with reliability on half a dozen occasions and at least one of those was down to water ingress on a damaged cable between my property and the cabinet. I would notice issues quickly too, as I've worked from home for that entire period.

          At least for me, reliability with Virgin is nearly perfect including consistency in bandwidth, I'm never less than 5% under the advertised speeds and most of the time I'm getting 10% above the rated speed. This is far better than the stories I hear from others about other providers.

          I recognise that this isn't true for everyone, but in general it's the consensus among those people I've spoken to who use Virgin.

          Where Virgin fails consistently in my experience is customer support, which can vary between 'adequate' and 'terrible'. Thankfully due to the reliability I experience, I rarely need to interface with their support team.

          By far my biggest complaint with Virgin Media is that the price seems to keep going up by leaps and bounds. It feels like they are squeezing their existing customers to fund introductory offers for their new clients and I'm not happy about it.

          I'm currently looking to move somewhere more rural, when I do, I think I'm going to really miss Virgin Media. I can only hope that where I end up, they have really good community fibre.

  9. Will Godfrey Silver badge
    Angel

    The Gas Man Cometh

    Flanders and Swan

    Nuff Sed?

  10. Horizontal
    Black Helicopters

    There is a major shortage of cement based products especially. Most of which is being diverted to the HS2.

    There are also shortages of timber products largely due to covid restrictions overseas in countries such as Sweden, China and Brazil.

  11. Abominator

    Having worked laying fibre as a sub contractor, it is a sad fact of life the main contractor always refuses to pay up and will delay payments for up to a year or more. They will often try to haggle you down after you have completed the work, knowing full well once they have done with you, they can squeeze your cashflow and threaten the business as a going concern, and in turn people will give in. Not many cash rich sub-contractors out there and the main ones know it.

    Nice to see they are getting called out on it.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      My brother got caught the very first time he worked for a big company.

      He ran a very successful small company doing ground works for individuals, small builders, etc. All paid up on the 30 days from completion terms, although he did have to sometimes visit individuals to 'collect' the check.

      He then got offered a job by a national company, too small for their usual contractors, but very big for my brother. He roped all of his resources into this project and completed in 2 months - so 2 months without income. He then set about his usual work and waited for the 30 days for payment that was in the contract.

      The national company then announced that they would not be paying him for 90 days. By the end of the 90 days he was to the top of his overdraft with the interest fees (now that deal with the bank was bad!)

      At the end of the 90 days, the national company then announced that he would have to take them to court to get paid. So, he called their bluff and got a court date 6 months down the line. However, it was year end before then and the revenue shut him down for not paying them.

      The previous company I worked for was taken over by an American outfit, who tried the same thing with some contractors we had been happily using for decades. The accountants just said that it was normal business. I left as there was no way I could condone such actions.

      1. Dom 3

        Ah, the myth of "maximising shareholder value" by withholding payment for as long as possible.

  12. JohnG

    I was subcontracted to a European intragovernmental organisation for over a decade and prime contractors would often not pay for 6 - 9 months. The organisation eventually wrote some terms into their draft contracts that required primes to pay subcontractors with 30 day terms or pay automatic penalties, with the possibility of organisation paying subcontractors directly and putting late-paying primes on the naughty step. The primes suddenly managed to pay invoices within 30 days.

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