SEC Group has asked the select committee to recommend the following actions to support small businesses and revive construction:
1. Working with the Local Government Association and local enterprise partnerships, the government should use the new £30bn construction framework to develop national and regional pipelines of work to be undertaken by SMEs.
2. A reduction in VAT for construction-related work especially repair and maintenance to stimulate demand.
3. To improve payment security for construction SMEs, the government should now adopt Lord Mendlesohn’s bill, Small Business Commissioner and Late Payments etc. Bill. (This seeks to introduce 30-day payment periods, mandate the use of project bank accounts and outlaw certain payment malpractices.)
4. The government should also adopt the now lapsed Construction (Retention Deposit Schemes) Bill introduced by Peter Aldous MP in January 2018.
5. The 2015 Public Contracts Regulations should be amended to enable contracting authorities to make direct payments to subcontractors.
6. The government should urgently start a dialogue with the private sector client organisations who regularly procure construction to find out their future pipelines of work and how they will ensure SMEs within their supply chains are properly paid.
7. The government should consider introducing regulations under the Civil Contingencies Act 2004 to suspend indefinitely contractual claims and counterclaims arising from the lockdown and require the immediate settlement of debts incurred prior to and during the lockdown.
8. The government should now legislate to introduce a moratorium to give firms on brink of insolvency a breathing space in which to negotiate a way forward with creditors.
While evidence is emerging of more and more sites re-opening and public sector bodies are keen to keep their sites going, invitations to tender published by the wider public sector in April were down 66% on the pre-Covid-19 crisis level in February, the SEC Group says.
SEC Group president Lord O’Neill said that the urgent priority was now to protect SMEs in the supply chains which provide the bulk of construction’s added value. “I’m now getting several reports of firms running out of cash during the coming months. Therefore, our efforts must be directed towards an approach that involves fast-tracking future workloads and enhancing payment security,” he said.
SEC Group is an umbrella trade group whose members include the British Constructional Steelwork Association, Building Engineering Services Association, ECA (the electrical contractors association), Lift & Escalator Industry Association, SELECT (Scottish electrical contractors), the Scottish & Northern Ireland Plumbing Employers’ Federation and the Scaffolding Association.