Special Report: Coronavirus – June 2020

Special Report: Coronavirus – June 2020

Whilst lockdown measures are easing and the nation continues to adapt to ‘the new normal’, the shadow of coronavirus will doubtless loom for some time. PBM considers some of the latest steps being made by the industry to ensure construction can progress safely and an informed manner, with a focus on the guidance from the Construction Leadership Council.

Plans for a post-Covid-19 revival of the UK construction sector have been published by the Construction Leadership Council’s Covid-19 Task Force. The Task Force, which represents the entire construction supply chain from product manufacturers and merchants to contractors, housebuilders and specialists, has laid out proposals to secure the future of construction businesses nationwide, while setting the industry on a sustainable path towards recovery.

The proposals, which have been developed and agreed by the sector’s leading trade bodies, include recommendations to:

  • Get industry back to work wherever it is safe to do so;
  • Maximise employment and retain key skills;
  • Ensure a pipeline of future workload for all parts of the sector;
  • Boost productivity to secure improved value;
  • Transform the industry through technology & digitalisation.

The Task Force was established as the situation escalated to provide focus on industry efforts to combat the impact of coronavirus. In the early days of the crisis it tackled immediate issues such as development of Site Operating Procedures to safeguard workers and addressing shortages of product availability.

With the UK Government encouraging businesses to return to work wherever possible, the Task Force examined the challenges that would arise as the industry entered the recovery phase of the crisis. The new report looks at the short, medium and long-term actions that will be required to overcome these problems, while grasping the opportunities to build a better industry in the future.

Industry bodies will work together to develop four sector specific plans that align to the CLC’s overarching recovery plan. The Builders Merchant Federation, for example, will work with others to progress detailed plans for the Housing and RMI sectors and the Task Force is engaging with government to test how the plans proposals might be delivered.

John Newcomb, BMF Chief Executive Officer, said: “Since its formation at the start of the crisis the CLC’s Covid-19 Taskforce has shown how effective the industry can be when it works towards a common goal. As we enter the recovery phase we have a real opportunity to deliver a coordinated programme that will benefit the whole industry and support the UK economy.”

The Construction Leadership Council’s Joint Chair Andy Mitchell added: “The unprecedented challenge of coronavirus calls for unprecedented solutions. I am delighted by the way that the industry has collaborated at pace to develop this plan, targeting those interventions that will help the industry get back on its feet as quickly as possible. We hope that everyone will take the opportunity to read the plan and consider the part you can play in its delivery.”

The Federation of Master Builders (FMB) chairs the CLC’s domestic RMI working group and also sits on the housing working group. Brian Berry, FMB Chief Executive, believes the plan can signal “an historic opportunity to put local builders at the heart of the country’s post-coronavirus economic revival.” He said: “I am determined that we build back better with small, local builders at the heart of the recovery, following the unprecedented shock of the coronavirus.

“I celebrate the fact that the UK construction industry is speaking with one voice, and that voice is calling for a sustainable future for construction, with a mandate to develop initiatives on energy retrofit to fix our leaky homes.

“If we are to reach the net zero carbon target, tackle fuel poverty, and improve health we need a national retrofit strategy, and local builders are the ones to deliver this. The domestic RMI market collapsed overnight as lockdown measures were introduced. I want to see it reopened in every community, helping to level up as we bounce back from the pandemic. As we tackle our ongoing housing crisis, small builders must also be central to delivering more, better quality homes for all those who need them, including our keyworkers.”

Practical information

Also under the auspices of the CLC, a further group led by product manufacturers, suppliers and merchants is helping to build confidence, dispel rumours and minimise supply and demand constraints as construction activity increases.

The CLC’s Product Availability Group — jointly chaired by the BMF and the Construction Products Association — meets weekly online, bringing together key manufacturers, merchants, Tier 1 contractors, SME builders and housebuilders to understand current stock levels, actual or potential pinch points, and when and how any issues are being addressed.

The current picture (at the time of writing) suggests that there is a good supply of the majority of building materials and products. The Brick Development Association, for instance, recently confirmed that there are 480 million clay bricks ready for immediate delivery from 56 factories around the country.

Elsewhere within the supply chain, there is also depth of stock in plumbing and heating, general lightside and electrical products. Increased plaster production “should see stock levels restored by the end of (the) month”.  However, with some quarries still to open, the Group has noted regional variations in the availability of aggregates.

Peter Caplehorn, Chief Executive of the CPA, said: “The meetings are proving invaluable in shedding light on the availability of different product groups and the circumstances and business reasons behind their status, as well as the consequences, including a small but critical number of product shortages which are now being resolved with increasing production.

“Ultimately, what we’ve helped facilitate is a frank but collegial discussion around business planning that has helped us share the facts, dispel rumours and uncertainty, and plot a way forward to ‘re-open’ the industry.”

The BMF’s John Newcomb added: “This Group has been instrumental in addressing some difficult supply and demand issues since the early days of the lockdown when most businesses chose to close and only ‘essential’ projects were the focus of attention.

“Since then, we’ve been pleased to see confidence growing and nearly all of our merchants re-opening, builders returning, site output increasing, and manufacturers ramping up capacity in line with new orders. All of this is being done with new operating procedures in place to ensure that safety is paramount.

“I’m encouraged that, in the face of unprecedented circumstances, our industry is working so collaboratively to address the challenges we are facing and get Britain building again.”

The CLC Roadmap to Recovery can be viewed online via https://www.constructionleadershipcouncil.co.uk/news/construction-roadmap-to-recovery-plan-published/

For guidance from the BMF on safe working practices in merchant branches, go to: https://professionalbuildersmerchant.co.uk/news/bmf-coronavirus-branch-operating-guidelines/

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