Tight security and cries of 'Vultures, vultures' greet firms as they gather to hear main contractor's message
British companies that want work in Iraq have been warned by main contractor Bechtel that they must pay for their own security.

Tom Elkins, Bechtel's acquisitions services manager, told contractors attending a briefing in west London that his firm did not intend to provide any support services for subcontractors. He said: "Your security is your own responsibility. It is not provided for you."

More than 1000 representatives from contractors across Europe crammed into the Novotel hotel in Hammersmith last Friday for the conference, organised by Bechtel.

Security was tight: all those attending had their bags checked and required two forms of identification. A crowd of protesters gathered outside the venue shouting "Vultures, vultures" as delegates made their way into the hotel.

Elkins outlined US government procurement guidelines for subcontracting work. He estimated that the average contract would be worth £500,000, which is less than expected. Initial work will focus on reopening Iraq's main port at Umm Qasr and restoring power supplies.

Elkins also emphasised that firms able to employ Iraqi labourers would have a greater chance of securing work. He said: "Once the tendering process is in place, it will be a fast-track system of getting people on board and out to Iraq. Bechtel will not employ any Iraqis but we will certainly look to subcontractors to do that."

Your security is your own responsibility. It is not provided

Tom Elkins of Bechtel

Elkins said it was difficult to say when the reconstruction work would start because of unresolved legal and security issues. Last month Bechtel was awarded the main £420m infrastructure repair contract from the US Agency for International Development. It is expected to subcontract up to 90% of the work.

Last Friday's conference was the second in a series of three seminars. The first was held in Washington DC on 22 May and the last is due to be held in Kuwait next week. Elkins emphasised that competition for contracts was fierce. He said that he expected up to 10,000 firms to have put in bids by the end of next week.

The conference received a muted response from one attendee. The delegate said: "It was a waste of time. [Bechtel] were putting on a public face in doing this but I felt the process was designed to keep people out. It was a procedure that Bechtel felt they had to go through."

  • Companies that hope to win a tender from Bechtel are being invited to register through the firm's website. Bechtel said that tender documents would be offered to all firms that met its bidding criteria, unless they were legally barred.