GUEST ARTICLE: Construction expert calls on UK building industry to assist in Coronavirus ‘war effort’

  • 14 Apr 2020

ConstructionMike Leonard, Visiting Professor in Manufacturing and Construction at Birmingham City University and CEO of industry CIC, Building Alliance, has called on the UK construction industry to assist the UK government and public in the Coronavirus ‘war effort’.

“We are all facing an unprecedented health crisis, which is resulting in a huge number of premature deaths and the collapse of many thousands of businesses in the construction sector alone.

At this time our only priority must be to save lives and the wider construction industry will step-up to play whatever roles will help, as we all go to war to defeat COVID-19.

We have lorries, premises and skilled staff all ready to take on new tasks to help look after our people, as we fight the war against this invisible enemy.”

The UK Construction industry is currently going through the calm before the storm, in the first few weeks of the crisis manufacturers of building materials experienced higher than usual demand as merchants, home builders and contractors try and get head of the curve and secure supplies.

This has now all but ceased as manufactures and merchants close to protect employees and reduce the demand on the NHS. The outdoor nature of the industry makes it safer than other sectors to operate with social distancing and the current Government advise is that construction should carry on.

In reality as the threat increases and the country is adhering to a near lockdown, the industry is progressively is closing down. The budget hotels, the weekday home for so many travelling construction workers are shut, demand for new homes has evaporated and the home extension and maintenance markets will cease to function as with most merchants now shut materials are now in very short supply.

We will be left with only essential workers, ensuring our emergency services can continue to operate and supporting the neediest, such as those with heating failures and water leaks.

The industry is very grateful for the unprecedented economic interventions so far, including the grants for the huge army of self-employed workers who make up the majority of the construction workforce.

It is vital that we retain our skilled workers and keep as many as possible of our businesses solvent and continued Government support offers the only credible route achieving this objective and more may need to be done, particularly to support companies that do not pay business rates and for whom taking on greater debt is not a viable option.

As we eventually emerge from this crisis, the time will come to rebuild our economy and get people back into work. The solution, as has been the case for past economic shocks, will be to ‘Get Britain Building’, which has a massive multiplier effect.

Research carried out by Dr Steve McCabe of Birmingham City University and the Building Alliance, illustrates that fulfilling the plan to build 300000 homes a year could generate £90 billion uplift to the economy.

This multiplier is a direct result of the use of British manufactured building materials, merchants and local labour. If we use offsite and modular buildings fabricated outside of the West Midlands, using imported raw materials, the multiplier simply does not work and the opportunity to create jobs and inclusive economic growth is lost.

The construction industry is known for its resilience, in the short term our focus must be on saving lives as things look set to become much worse before they get better.

We must also use the time constructively to plan for the recovery and provide the economic bounce the country will so badly need. This may include ‘oven ready schemes’ to improve our 26 million homes, discount programmes to attract first time home purchasers and fast track schemes to train new entrants to the industry.”

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