The Challenge We All Face – A Message From The Cast

So, as the fragility of the human race rightly sits at the forefront of our minds, after a few days at home there is a stark realisation that it is not only the human race that is fragile.  Our construction industry, which is integral to the UK GDP, sits in the precarious balance of a pending and arguably inevitable stand still. The lack of predictability to establish the duration of disruption and associated consequences, is potentially the most frightening factor, outside of the loss of life.

The priority must be preserving life, shoring up the NHS and quelling panic amongst the masses (in that order!) but as the dust settles over these coming days we need to ask the government to consider carefully what a mandated shutdown means for our industry?  BoJo did not provide that clarity for us last night and it has led to widespread confusion for construction today.

Microsoft Teams, the cloud and general digitalisation have huge merits for the office based amongst us, but the principles do not extend to our bricklayers, scaffolders, fixers and joiners.  Some things still have to be tangibly constructed.  Add to this the very fact that according to HMRC circa 50% of the construction industry is self-employed and thus a 2-week lockdown could have serious and lasting effects on groups of individuals. Anything longer, has the potential to be catastrophic without supportive government measures for those affected groups.

Force Majeure is terminology referenced in standard industry documentation that provides minimal recovery on time and running costs for a main contractor but means nothing for the man or women driving the crane or fixing the partition.  What realistic ‘measures’ have the government got up their sleeve to alleviate that pressure to the everyday self-employed worker, without whom our skylines could not be shaped?  We would like to see a combination of the following suggestions actioned to ensure the industry we all love remains intact during the inevitable challenging times for individuals, families, businesses and manufacturers that lay ahead:

  • Continuation of schemes in preconstruction – let’s take the time to be sending pricing enquiries out so that when we are back to ‘normal’ we hit the ground running!
  • Repatriation of staff to different disciplines that are demand/key worker led – we know a business that has a busy cleaning and FM business – if the individual self-employed operatives are up for it can we offer them a cleaning role potentially on less money rather than lay them off altogether?
  • Reallocation of our vans/vehicles and the paye staff we hold, to do something positive (safely) for the community, delivering goods or medicines for those at risk.
  • Expand your reach – using our skills to repair and maintain schools, community and commercial buildings while they are vacant with small ‘social distancing’ gangs. If BoJo doesn’t lockdown construction, then consider getting those projects done without the premiums of ‘occupied working’ strategies.
  • Limited shutdown itself with safety of people being paramount, social distancing being followed, or strategies for team A & B to operations on open air sites to limit overall numbers (better to earn 3 days a week than none) and changes to working times to avoid key workers travelling on public transport.
  • Work on your company vision and resilience planning, if this teaches us nothing other than to appreciate that we are far from invincible and how we disaster plan for future events then at least we can come out the other side stronger.

I don’t profess to have the answers, I do however like to debate everyone’s ideas.  The industry is full of bright and innovative minds.

All of these suggestions obviously go flying out the window in the event of a complete lockdown (inclusive of construction), if that happens (which appears inevitable based on today’s media coverage), let’s pray that it is as short as is safe to do so and that these workers are properly reimbursed.

As a newer business we are going to try and use this time (in between home schooling the kids and trying to get a HIT workout in!)  to prepare for the bounce back that we know this country and industry has within them.  Doubling down on cost plans, tendering, pricing and general admin (all the stuff you avoid doing normally!) so that we go back into London we do so with a bang, knowing we did everything we could for our businesses, our industry, our communities and our clients during these testing times.

To our friends, colleagues and connections, keep safe, keep positive and keep busy!

The Cast x

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