In Roadmap to Recovery: An Industry Recovery Plan for the UK Construction Sector, the Construction Leadership Council (CLC) Covid-19 task force has laid out proposals under the sub-headings: Restart, Reset, Reinvent.
Restart: increasing output, maximising employment and minimising disruption (0-3 months)
Reset: driving demand, increasing productivity and strengthening capability in the supply chain (3-12 months)
Reinvent: transforming the industry, delivering better value, collaboration and partnership (12-24 months).
The Construction Products Association estimates that construction output will fall by 25% in 2020, with the largest falls in activity in private housing (42%), commercial construction (36%), and private repair maintenance & improvement ( 35%). It is expected to take at least two years for the industry to recover lost ground.
The CLC says that costs and delivery time are likely to increase as a result of lost productivity from implementing social distancing. This will erode low margins further, and place additional cost pressure on firms, making it harder to invest for the future.
Many of the recommended actions in the recovery plan require the support of government, local authorities and other construction clients. The CLC task force is in talks with government (which has representatives on the CLC) to test how the proposals might be delivered.
For example, Restart measures include extending working hours on sites and extending planning expiry dates so that permissions are not lost due to Covid-19 disruption. The CLC also recommends a test, track and trace service specific for construction workers.
Proposals under Reset include another year’s delay to the implementation of reverse charge VAT until October 2021 as well as an acceleration of the existing ACM cladding remediation programme and public bodies to publish revised pipelines of infrastructure projects.
Reinvent measures are a reiteration of familiar CLC hobby horses and existing government policy – promoting prefabrication and offsite construction, digital technology, partnering and net zero carbon targets. There is little in the way of new or original ideas here but the CLC doubtless hopes that the crisis created by Covid-19 provides an opportunity to create some momentum for its long-standing causes.
The CLC believes that “adopting digital and manufacturing technologies at scale has the potential to transform construction productivity, with efficiencies estimated to be worth £7-15bn pa, and delivering high quality, better performing buildings for clients”. It will also reduce dependence on labour, it adds.
On partnering, it says: “Embed more collaborative and less adversarial partnership working between the industry and its clients, building on initiatives such as Project 13, alliancing models and those undertaken by Homes England and Highways England. Long term partnerships will enable the industry to invest more in skills and technologies that will improve performance and ensure building safety creating a positive cycle within the industry.”
The CLC also wants another overhaul of the construction industry’s training and qualifications system “to ensure that this is fit for purpose”.
The Confederation of British Industries threw its weight behind the construction industry recovery plan. Its policy director Matthew Fell said: “A major programme of investment in infrastructure and housing is needed to help the UK economy build back better from the coronavirus pandemic and accelerate action on our long-term challenges of climate change and regional growth.
“But to deliver this, it will be essential that the construction industry is in good financial health, ready to mobilise as one. Investing in long-term project pipelines, improving procurement in the public and private sectors, and committing to collaborate rather than litigate, can all help the sector step up at this time of need.
“This strategy sets out clear workstreams that government and industry should commit to, ensuring the stability and confidence of the industry, and putting construction on a path to drive the recovery of the UK economy.”
Roadmap to Recovery: An Industry Recovery Plan for the UK Construction Sector can be downloaded via the Construction Leadership Council website.