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GUEST ARTICLE: Is the Construction Industry Finally Recovering?

  • 19 Nov 2020

The construction industry has been through a lot of difficult times over the last few years, including big-name companies going out of business, Brexit, and now a major global pandemic. Is the industry finally just able to see the light at the end of the tunnel? This article explores whether the easing of some restrictions and the government investing £1.3 billion in the industry is the foundations for a better future.

Finally some good news

The construction industry has received good news, at least in monetary terms, in the HIS Markit/CIPS Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) rating.

Used to highlight global economic trends in the manufacturing and service sectors, June’s record jump of 11.4 index points was a five-month high — and a statistic that shows a correlation between lockdowns easing and economies starting to recover.

But the global index does not just look at the UK, so we need to look closer to see how the industry is doing right now in the UK.

The UK Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed that construction output declined by 40 per cent in April. The pandemic was the cause for a 41.2 per cent drop in new work and a 38.1 per cent reduction in repair and maintenance.

The drop in the amount of work has been the biggest reduction for 10 years and makes up a financial loss of £5.1 billion. May’s figures show a small sign of improvement for construction output, with an 8.2% increase  — compared to April’s figure — being accredited to the easing of lockdown restrictions.

The industry is starting to look good with May’s increase and June’s record PMI rating jump, and it’s hoped the industry will continue to head in the right direction.

However, the ONS says that it is hard to work out the exact impact of the coronavirus because the unpredictability of the virus.

Safety is key

It will be a while before the industry fully recovers back to its pre-pandemic state. As part of the journey back to normality, , another important aspect to consider is the health and safety of working conditions.

Not only will the standard health and safety precautions have to be abided by but also the new pandemic regulations such as social distancing and extra hand washing. This will put a bigger emphasis on health and safety within construction.

There have been new regulations brought in to the industry that need to be followed. Theintroduction of the Building Safety Bill, which brings in new reforms for the building and fire safety system – from how a building is built and how safe it is once the structure is finished.

On the other, the Construction Leadership Council’s Site Operating Procedures during COVID-19 are aimed at protecting workforces from the virus.

The Building Safety Bill has been brought in as a result of the Grenfell Tower disaster, the Construction Leadership’s Council Site Operating Procedures, and has already been through five iterations because of the unpredictable nature of the pandemic.

These new regulations are needed to allow the industry to move forward in a positive way. The two regulations may not be connected but they will work together to protect workers.

Without the Safety Bill, you run the risk of unsafe buildings built in an unsafe way, and without the guidelines for working during COVID-19, you can’t implement the new ways in which buildings have to be built, all the way from design to completion.

Life on a construction site can be tricky. There are less collaborative working spaces due to a reliance on the land in which the building is being built on.

As such, there are many facilities needed on-site during construction projects, such as officers, drying rooms, toilet blocks, canteens and storage space usually found within a storage container.

Construction workers are usually in close proximity to each other, making social distancing hard to follow. But sites can be closed if it is found they are not following guidelines correctly.

There is good news in the bad, though – a course to help teach the industry about safe working practises during the pandemic has been created by industry specialists.

CovCert is an online programme designed to provide employees with an understanding of how to work safely and minimise the risks from COVID-19.

The course is a collaboration is between industry expect Green Hat Consulting and construction workforce specialist Sphere Solutions and will be there to educate and ensure that sites are following guidelines correctly.

The managing director of Green Hat Consulting, Andrew Warring, commented: “CovCert is aimed at employees who are returning to work on construction sites. The courses are intended to raise COVID-19 awareness and provide employees with the knowledge required to minimise the risk of transmission and infection within the workplace, as well as providing an induction for new employees and informing on up to date guidance.”

This is a step in the right direction and will allow those who have been worried about coming back to their worksite feel more confident, which will help their company and the overall industry get back to normal quicker.

Help from the Government

To help the £5.1 billion financial loss due to the pandemic, the Government has decided to push ahead with building tens of thousands of new homes, as well as other infrastructure projects thanks to a £1.3 billion investment given by Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick. The move is part of the Government’s plan to deliver upgrades to local infrastructure and boost skills to help trigger a green economic recovery.

The investment will allow 45,000 new homes to be built and around 85,000 jobs to be created. This will also reduce England’s CO2 emissions by 65 million kgs. It’s a perfectly timed boost for an ailing industry desperate for a helping hand to kickstart its recovery.

Overall, there are little pockets of hope for the construction industry, but there is a lot of work that needs to be done to get through this current period. With such an unpredictable virus and landscape for the world of construction, it’s important that small steps are made as frequently as possible to avoid another decade in the doldrums.

Andrew Thompson, Managing Director of Mobile Mini, who supply storage containers and portable site accommodation to the construction industry, said: “It is clear that the Government stimulus such as Build Build Build, coupled with the announcement of the removal of red tape within the planning permission process and the support with stamp duty,  has further ignited a confidence within the construction sector. 

“There is a real and tangible air of determination to not only recover lost ground, but also a true British bulldog spirit to beat COVID-19. This is evident within the demands of our business and the strength of our pipeline, which is why we have recently invested over £2m in additional products.

“There is no doubt that the furlough scheme has given businesses breathing space to adapt and rebuild, however, the UK supply chain is still restricting that growth and rebound opportunity.

“If we can accelerate the supply chain recovery to meet the country’s demand for construction, then we will undoubtedly see an impressive ‘V recovery’.”

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