Coronavirus Update – Friday 15th May 2020

We will continue to circulate the CLC and Build UK Information unless or until Welsh Government and/or Public Health Wales issue any updated information relevant to our industry.

The article below by Build UK Chief Executive Suzannah Nichol was originally published in Construction News on 11 May 2020.

Take this opportunity: COVID‐19 should change our industry for the better

It may not feel like it right now but there are some positives for the construction industry to take from the coronavirus crisis.

One of those is the government’s recognition of the importance of the sector to the economy and society. The industry has bemoaned the lack of a dedicated minister for years, but recent letters from business secretary Alok Sharma have specifically highlighted that construction is contributing to the “resilience” of the nation. There have also been frequent meetings with the secretary of state himself, as well as a range of ministers, including the construction minister Nadhim Zahawi, BEIS minister Paul Scully and the minister responsible for HS2, Andrew Stephenson, all of whom have supported the recent work of the Construction Leadership Council (CLC).

A vital industry

The realisation by those at the top of government that construction is of significant economic value should not be underestimated, and as an industry we should be proud of the role we are playing. The government asked us to keep construction going, and we’ve responded by completing the Nightingale hospitals while continuing ‐ and even accelerating ‐ numerous other projects to expand healthcare capacity.

We’ve also been carrying out vital work to keep the country’s infrastructure running, including highways and key transport links, alongside projects to build new schools, care homes, housing, and other social infrastructure that will be needed more than ever when we emerge from this crisis.

We’ve been able to undertake that work because we’ve pulled together as a sector ‐ for example in developing and implementing the Site Operating Procedures to ensure compliance with government guidance.

Companies have recognised that they need to embrace new ways of working, and I’m not just talking about maintaining social distancing on site, but about fundamentally changing the way projects are conceived, designed, procured, and delivered.

The changes required of the construction sector have already been well documented through myriad industry reports in the past; however, we have made limited progress while more demands have been added to the list.

What's changed?

Necessity being the mother of invention, the coronavirus crisis has forced some of that change on us.

  • In complying with the Site Operating Procedures to keep workers safe, we’ve begun to appreciate our people and their skills more, but also question what we do on site and why more of it isn’t done off site or in a different way;
  • We’ve discovered that many routine tasks that used to involve in‐person meetings, such as conducting site visits or handing over completed projects, can now be done equally, if not more, effectively remotely. An 8:30am Zoom call is much better for a healthy work‐life balance than an 8:30am meeting miles away from home;
  • We’ve also seen that, when required, we can do things previously thought to be too difficult. Shift‐working across 24 hours has delivered projects in record time while avoiding congestion on site and rush‐hour commuting. While not right for every project, it is an example of how thinking and operating differently could work to the benefit of everyone;
  • We’ve proved that collaboration is key. In order to keep projects going and minimise the usual contractual stand‐offs, clients, contractors and the supply chain are recognising that there has to be a better way to find the common ground;
  • Last but not least, we’ve seen increased pride in the sector and recognition of the value to our communities. There is less emphasis on “this is how we’ve always done it” and more focus on “what do we need to do to make this work”, leading to better and faster communication across the whole supply chain.

Build UK is playing a fundamental role in the CLC, which is leading on a roadmap to recovery for the sector. We must make some of these short-term changes permanent and speed up the infrastructure revolution that will make us more effective and efficient in the long term.

We have shown over the last seven weeks that construction really can do things differently and this crisis could finally be the catalyst for change.

It is up to each and every one of us to grab this opportunity and leave the legacy of a strong and sustainable industry for the next generation.

Suzannah Nichol, Build UK Chief Executive