Public Procurement and Property

“Spreading our wings” – Rural SME showcase with Lewis Builders

November 29, 2022 by No Comments | Category Case study, SMEs, Supplier Development Programme, Sustainable Procurement, video

As part of the Sustainable Procurement Duty, we want to improve access to public contracts for SMEs, social enterprises and third-sector organisations across Scotland. Not just in cities and urban areas, but across the whole country including more remote areas and rural communities.

In a recent blog, we discussed how, over the coming months, we’ll be sharing a number of communications focussing on supplier engagement. Our latest video series highlights rural SMEs using the power of procurement to grow their business and bring benefits to their local communities.

Following on from our first case study with Levenseat in rural South Lanarkshire, we travelled North to Stornoway in the Western Isles to visit a completely different type of rural business – Lewis Builders.

Over the last 30 years, Lewis Builders have grown from being a small construction company to a multi-trade operation employing nearly 100 individuals on the island today. Their first major public sector contract for the local authority’s £5 million Ardseileach care home project let them ‘spread their wings’ and paved the way for them to grow the business through public sector contracts.

Lewis Builders are committed to providing opportunities for work and training on the island, developing a strong apprenticeship programme and bridging the construction industry skills gap. They are a significant local employer, committed to supporting their employees by embedding Fair Work principles within their contract delivery, including paying the real Living Wage – and supporting the Young Person’s Guarantee.

Visiting Lewis Builders, it was clear to see that they are passionate about supporting their local community, delivering a range of community benefits including employment and training opportunities, education and third-sector support – and a great deal more.

Watch the full case study below featuring Lewis Builders’ Donald Maclennan (Owner), Iain Macaskill (Operations Director), Ewen Maclean (Facilities & Maintenance Manager) and Olivia Woodley (Adult Apprentice).

As part of their journey working with the public sector, Lewis Builders have accessed free training and events from the Supplier Development Programme (SDP). SDP provides expert training, support and information to help Scottish SMEs and third-sector organisations win work and grow their businesses.

Many thanks to Lewis Builders for contributing to this video project.

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Multi-speaker Transcript:

My name is Donald Maclennan and I’m the owner of Lewis Builders founded back in 1989.

The company started back from rented premises then and there was basically just the two of us where we introduced joiners, bricklayers and labourers.

We basically were a small construction company.

Every year the company grew and employed more individuals and back in 2001 we actually purchased this premises that we now operate from.

Narrator: Can you tell us about your journey of working with the public sector?

Iain Macaskill: We’ve done lots of work for the local authority. We’ve done work at the local airport.

We’re currently working for the ferry company on the island doing some infrastructure work for them.

There’s lots of different types, from just changing a door handle to construction of a brand new terminal building.

Narrator: What are your top tips on working with the public sector?

Iain: Go for it! Just take it on board and it’s a learning curve

You know, from start to finish, and that doesn’t stop.

There’s always something changing but you’re only every going to get the hang of it if you start and just keep working at it, that’s the best advice.

Ewen Maclean: This is the Ardseileach care home it was one of our first major projects that we got through the local council.

It was a five million pound project over the course of two years.

We were really wanting to spread our wings because we’re multi trade and we knew that we could carry out the works with a lot of it being in-house.

We had to use one or two specialist contractors that came up from the mainland but out with that we were able to do quite a lot of the work ourselves

We knew that although it was a massive contract compared to anything we’d done before that we were tooled up and ready to take that step.

Due to the size of contract we obviously had to take on quite a large number of staff which I can say we were quite lucky that we never really had to get rid of which you see quite commonly at the end of large contracts – and our staff numbers have grown and grown since then to the point that we went from somewhere in the region of 40 staff to now nearly 100 staff/

and obviously within that we’ve got a number of apprentices and we’re able to offer a number of apprenticeships throughout the island.

Narrator: How are you providing opportunities for young people on the island?

Iain: Lewis Builders are a Living Wage employer. We’re also signed up to the Young Person’s Guarantee and we support initiatives like that because our workforce are our most important asset.

We do a lot of work with work experience programmes training programmes, and we’re constantly looking at ways in which we can develop that.

We’ve been shown over the years that apprentice numbers are dropping.

We’ve got a huge skills shortage on our hands and we can only address that by getting involved in it

There’s no point in sitting back and waiting for somebody else to come up with solutions. We need to go out there and do it ourselves.

So we’re actively working on ways in which we can address that.

We’ve recently taken on some adult apprentices to try and bridge the skills gap.

Olivia Woodley: I was really delighted when I found out I could do an adult apprenticeship in two years instead of four.

I’m with the maintenance guy, so like if there’s a problem with something in the council we’ll get called up – go fix that.

So I’ve kind of done a bit of everything really!

A little bit of plumbing as well, a little bit of painting so it’s been really good.

Iain: We’re engaging with the schools, we’re engaging with the other agencies and we’re trying to make the young people aware of what careers are available in construction, and it’s not just apprentice joiners or apprentice bricklayers

There’s so many more opportunities within the business from administration through to management.

Narrator: How else does Lewis Builders benefit your local community?

Lewis Builders do deliver a range of community benefits through contracts where there are prescribed community benefits to be delivered but on top of that we also deliver a great deal more.

Whether that’s a donation for a raffle or whether it’s for the lend of a vehicle to you know, larger donations of maybe helping out with materials for projects that might be ongoing within the community.

Narrator: What are the benefits of running a rural island-based business?

Iain: Running a business in the Western Isles is completely different to running one in the central belt of Scotland, or anywhere else for that matter.

There are lots of benefits that come alongside running a business in a place like this.

We’re very fortunate to live in this part of the world.

The mindset of our workforce is fantastic and they’ll turn their hand to anything when asked.

Narrator: If you’d like to learn about bidding for public sector contracts, please visit for guidance and resources.

Scottish Government

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