FMB urges Chancellor to back local builders

AN economic package that increases demand for building work, protects jobs, and invests in training is needed to boost economic growth and save jobs, says the Federation of Master Builders (FMB) ahead of the Chancellor’s announcement on Wednesday.

The FMB is publishing an open letter to Rt Hon Rishi Sunak MP, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, setting out four key steps that will support the industry to build back better and greener.

This is all the more important as today’s UK Construction PMI data for June 2020 shows that employment has fallen at the end of the second quarter, and builders are registering only ‘cautious optimism’ with the rate of new order growth far weaker than seen for business activity.

Brian Berry, Chief Executive of the FMB, said: “The Chancellor must deliver on last week’s commitments to build back better and greener with a recovery package that places local builders at the heart. The FMB welcomed the Government’s unprecedented support measures for firms during the lockdown, and hopes for similar scale and creativity to protect local construction jobs and training opportunities.

“The four key interventions needed to support recovery in the SME construction sector include cutting VAT on repair and renovation works to 5% to boost activity. The Government must bring forward its pledged £9.2 billion investment in energy efficiency, underpinned by a national retrofit strategy to mobilise the market. As the Prime Minister recognised last week, building new homes is a great economic stimulus, and supporting local SME house builders will speed up delivery and drive up quality.

Finally, opportunities need to be created for apprentices, and given that local builders train the majority in construction, the Government needs to target information and financial support to them. Builders stand ready to build back better, but they need support to do so.”

www.fmb.org.uk

Workers rejoice as PM relaxes social distancing rules

PRIME Minister Boris Johnson has announced today (23 June) that from 4 July, England will enter a new phase in lockdown.

Under the new, more relaxed restrictions called ‘one meter plus’, the public are advised to remain two meters apart wherever possible but will be allowed to be as close as one meter if using ‘mitigation’ (such as face coverings), and be allowed to stay overnight in other households.

Several types of business will also be opening, including pubs, restaurants and hairdressers.

Dan Daintry, co-director of PAL Hire, said: “This news will come as a welcome relief for many ordinary people around the country. For months now we have all been feeling the effects of isolation and social distancing and the ability to go to a pub, get our hair done or attend a wedding will be warmly welcomed come as a breath of fresh air.

“In some ways it’s a small step and we still have a way to go before we’re out of the woods. But psychologically it’s an extremely important one, getting everyone that much closer to a life that may have felt impossibly distant.”

WHAT CAN I DO FROM 4 JULY?

  • Social distancing rules will apply from one meter rather than two, although two meters is still recommended where possible.
  • Two households of any size will be able to meet, indoors or outdoors, although this is not advised for more than two households.
  • In public, two households can meet regardless of six, although multiple households will only be able to meet in groups of up to six.
  • Pubs bars and restaurants (although not nightclubs) will be allowed to open, but only with a table service.
  • Places of worship will open and weddings will be allowed to have up to 30 attendees.
  • Hair dressers and barbers will be allowed to reopen although protective measures must still be taken.
  • Hotels, campsites and caravan parks will be allowed to open.

April has biggest drop in construction output on record

FIGURES released today by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) show a more than 40% drop in construction output for April 2020 - the largest monthly drop since records began in January 2010.

The ONS says that this abrupt drop was driven by a 41.2% decrease in new work and a 38.1% decrease in repair and maintenance.

Clive Docwra, managing director of leading construction consulting and design agency McBains, said: “Today’s figures are further confirmation that the construction sector will face a hugely tough time to recover from the coronavirus pandemic.

“Particular concerns are private new housing work seeing a third consecutive month of large decline, exacerbated by the COVID-19 lockdown on April and now at its lowest level for a decade – bad news for the industry but also for prospective homeowners given the housing shortage. 

"The record fall in private commercial new work also reflects the pause button being pressed on major projects.

“Hopefully today’s figures will represent the nadir given they cover the full month of lockdown, but while many large construction firms are now resuming work, many will still weakened by reduced order pipelines over the next few months.

“Firms are also experiencing labour shortages, supply chains are still operating extremely slowly and cashflow is becoming an increasingly pressing issue as cash reserves dry up.  

"The government needs to stimulate demand, for example through reducing VAT on repair and maintenance work.”

To read the statistics in full, click here.

Mental Health Awareness Week should be cancelled!

By Bill Hill, CEO of the Lighthouse Club

THE year we cancel Mental Health Awareness Week will be because the mental health of our workforce is treated as significantly and comes as naturally as ensuring their physical safety. It will come at a time when everyone in our industry is aware of the importance of good mental wellbeing, every operation has a mental health policy and the suicide rate in construction has been significantly reduced.

However, according to the recent CIOB survey, taken before the Covid-19 outbreak, we have a long way to go and the day we cancel Mental Health Awareness Week will not be anytime soon.

We need more companies to engage, accelerate and amplify our efforts to improve our workforce wellbeing. By following a simple five step guideline,  any company can embrace the change without considerable financial outlay.

  • Step 1: Commitment.  Management agree policy and sign up to treating mental health as a priority in their operation
  • Step 2: Access to an EAP. Everyone in the operation including all onsite subcontractors should have access to an Employee Assistance Programme. If  no scheme is available,  use our charity’s free  Construction Industry Helpline and supporting App.
  • Step 3: Start the conversation. Deliver regular on-site wellbeing toolbox talks to get people talking together
  • Step 4: Awareness. All people managers should attend an online or on-site Mental Health Awareness course.
  • Step 5: On Site Mental Health First Aiders. Every operation should have an onsite Mental Health First Aider in the same ratio as physical first aiders

Following this simple five step incurs little cost,  makes construction a more attractive place to work for the next generation and could ultimately save lives.  

However, if all else fails try adopting these 3 life principles:

  1. Always ask twice. Make eye contact, you don’t always get the true answer first time around 
  2. Seek to understand before you seek to be understood.  Listen and don’t judge, easier said than done! And be the last to talk.
  3. Always be kind, there is no reason to be unkind even if you need to deliver a tough message it can be done in a humane way.

These three life principles are easy to say and difficult to follow, but if we did, the world would be a better place and Mental Health Awareness Week would be a thing of the past.

Find out more about the 5 Step guideline  www.BuildingMentalHealth.net

New support tools for Checkatrade members through COVID crisis.

Checkatrade, one of the UK’s leading directories of recommended, vetted and monitored trade experts, has announced a number of new initiatives designed to support its trade members during this unprecedented period of lockdown.

It has promoted a new video calling function on its website - a first within the online trade directory market - enabling tradespeople and potential clients to more easily ‘meet’, discuss jobs and obtain quotes from the comfort of their own homes. This means jobs can be safely scoped in advance or booked-in ready for when restrictions are lifted.

Checkatrade has also partnered with Claritas Tax, an accountancy firm specialising in tax advisory and compliance services, to offer trade members practical advice on accessing the financial support available at this time. The guidance, available on the Checkatrade blog, covers three main areas; help for the self-employed, the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and VAT deferment.

Checkatrade is offering its members financial support and new affiliate packages for the duration of lockdown to allow them to maintain or build their online profile at a fraction of the usual cost.

Mike Fairman, CEO at Checkatrade, said: “Our members work across a broad spectrum of industries. For some it’s business as usual, for others their pipeline of work has collapsed overnight, leading to huge financial uncertainty and untold stress.

"We’re committed to doing all we can to support them. With our members ranging from sole traders through to limited companies, it’s important that everyone has access to the best tools and sound advice so that risks are minimised and opportunities maximised.”

www.checkatrade.com

British Safety Council slams PM's 'reckless' message

THE British Safety Council has today demanded that no worker be forced back to their workplace until it has been made safe.

The Government has indicated that more people should be going to work and last night the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, said: “You should go to work if you can’t work from home and to ensure you are safe at work we have been working to establish new guidance for employers to make workplaces COVID-secure”.

The British Safety Council is providing support to employers with workers on the front line, including healthcare workers and essential workers in retail, manufacturing and construction. As well as providing direct support through the lockdown, the British Safety Council is developing new services to help organisations adapt as lock down restrictions are eased.

Speaking today from his home Mike Robinson, chief executive of the British Safety Council, said: “Yesterday’s announcement compounded a week of mixed messages that will put workers at risk – it is reckless to urge people back to work before clear guidance has been published and before employers have put in place plans to make workplaces safe.

"Instead of a phased plan, allowing managers to understand and interpret guidance, anxious workers are going to be piling back on to public transport without any clear rules and guidance. We are working to help our members and customers to carry out proper risk assessments, but the confusing messages from government are not helping anyone.

“We will look in detail at the guidance when available, and we are working closely with members to ensure that employers carry out their duty to ensure workers are safe, whether that’s at home, travelling to and from work and in their place of work. I know that most people are keen to get back to work and back to some normality, but if we follow this chaotic approach, we risk undermining all the hard work achieved through the lock down.

"In a national emergency there is a strong instinct to give the government the benefit of the doubt – but they need to sort this mess out. When the guidance is published it must put the safety of workers front and centre and end the current confusion.”

Construction workers 'should be actively encouraged to go to work', says PM

LAST night (Sunday 10 May), the Prime Minister delivered a speech updating the UK on the government's position on the lockdown in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.

He announced that those who are not able to work from home, explicitly citing those in the construction sector as an example, 'should be actively encouraged to go to work' as long as it was safe and the workers were able to avoid public transport.

Durnig the address, the Prime Minister also announced that the Government would look into re-opening schools for children of certain age groups from June, and that from Wednesday the rules of only being allowed outside for one hour of exercise per day were to be relaxed from this Wednesday.

Under previous guidance, UK construction companies have not been required to close so far. Yet the Prime Minister's speech is the most high-profile endorsement of such businesses returning to work so far.

However, the Prime Minister has come under fire for the address, with some critics calling the guidance 'vague'.

The devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all distanced themselves from Boris Johnson's new 'Stay Alert' message, insisting 'Stay At Home' should be the overriding message to the public.

In Scotland, where non-essential construction work remains banned, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said after the Prime Minister's address: “I think it is incumbent on him to stress that when he is talking about lifting these restrictions […] he is talking for England.”

More details of the Government's lockdown recovery plan are expected when the government releases guidance later today.

Government to announce plans to get Britain back to work

THE Prime Minister Boris Johnson blew the whistle on the UK returning to work last night as he announced he will set out a plan for reopening schools and restarting the economy next week.

A confirmed date for lifting the lockdown has yet to be set, but speculation is rife that a slow restart will begin very soon.

The Prime Minister stressed that, even though the UK is ‘past the peak’, a slow return to normality would be necessary so that we do not ‘risk a second spike’.

The construction industry was been classified as key workers, and so were not obliged to completely close as long as they were able to meet the HSE’s social distancing criteria. But with supply lines compromised and travel disrupted, many sites doing non-essential work were closed in line with the lockdown policy.

The Government is continuing to work closely with unions and business group to discuss guidelines for working as the lockdown is lifted.

Trade bodies monitor construction supplies to iron out demand and production

THE Builders Merchants Federation (BMF) is working with the Construction Products Association (CPA) to monitor the manufacturing and distribution of their respective members in order to meet the needs of housebuilders, contractors and SME builders as sites re-open.

They are heading up the Product Availability Group, set-up by the Construction Leadership Council (CLC), which is co-ordinating the industry’s response to the COVID-19 crisis.

The BMF is gaining information from across its membership to identify items likely to be in short supply.  Early shortfalls in plaster and plasterboard supply were the first to be flagged up under the monitoring system, and steps are being taken to resolve that shortfall.

John Newcomb, chief executive of the BMF, said: “The Product Availability Group, which includes Tier 1 contractors, large and SME housebuilders along with merchants and manufacturers, is meeting every two weeks to keep a watching brief on the situation across the entire construction industry supply chain.

“Nothing like this has happened before and the work we are doing is unprecedented. The spirit of collaboration forged within the CLC makes it possible for the whole materials chain to work together to resolve any challenges in a proactive way and ensure demand is met across the construction sector.”

Peter Caplehorn, CPA chief executive, said: “The CPA has been closely monitoring the operational status of its members, who are looking for sustainable demand for their products before starting to phase in more factory production, whilst at the same time ensuring the health and well-being of their workforce.

“With the BMF, we are discussing with Government and the wider industry the need to encourage builders and merchants to safely re-open more sites and branches, in addition to continuing support for ‘essential’ activity such as key NHS and infrastructure projects, repair and maintenance.”

The BMF’s five larges merchant members, along with five of the CPA’s largest manufacturing members are part of the Product Availability Group.

Government announces loan scheme for small businesses

THE Chancellor has announced a simple micro loan scheme with a 100% Government-backed guarantee for small businesses.

The new Bounce Back Loans scheme will offer to up £50,000 to small businesses recovering in the wake of the coronavirus crisis and should reach businesses withni days of applying through the short online application.

"Our smallest businesses are the backbone of our economy and play a vital role in their communities," said Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak. "This new rapid loan scheme will help ensure they get the finance they need quickly to help survive this crisis.

"This is in addition to business grants, tax deferrals, and the job retention scheme, which are already helping to support hundreds of thousands of small businesses."

The annonucement shows that he has listened to the concerns of local builders who have struggled to access affordable finance during the lockdown, said the Federation of Master Builders (FMB). However, with many small to medium-sized (SME) construction sites still shut, an SME Support Fund that issues grants, instead of loans, is needed to help builders get back to business once lockdown ends.

Brian Berry, Chief Executive of the FMB, said: “The Chancellor has listened to local builders’ concerns about cashflow, raised by the FMB, and brought forward a simple loan scheme for viable firms. This marks a positive step when just 4% of builders were able to acquire credit through previous schemes.”

“Cashflow is currently builders’ biggest headache because many construction sites remain shut. The combined challenges of accessing scarce materials, working safely in a client’s home, and protecting the health of the construction workforce, has left many firms unable to continue bringing income in. An SME Support Fund in England, and Northern Ireland, similar to the ones in Scotland and Wales, is needed to issue grants and ensure that these firms can hit the ground running post-lockdown.

"Builders, and the construction industry, will thrive if they are able to reinvest their profits back into the economy, rather than paying back a loan.”

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