This year has challenged the supply chain to respond to a global pandemic, maintaining safety and supporting customers. Peter Johnson, chairman of cladding supplier Vivalda Group, reflects on a challenging year for the facades market and looks forward.
Having grappled with the three biggest strategic challenges we’d ever faced in one go – the construction recession, Brexit and the post-Grenfell period – we thought things could only get better in 2020. Alas it was not to be. If we thought these choppy waters were bad enough, cue the arrival of Covid-19 and the impact it’s had on the global economy.
However, while no one could ever say it’s been easy, the challenges posed by the virus have brought out the best in people with our nine UK branches using new technology (such as Zoom and Teams) to stay in touch with contractors to maintain the flow of cladding to site.
Thankfully, our sector has not been as badly affected by lockdown measures as others within UK plc. Certainly, the government’s remediation fund of £1.6bn has helped maintain activity in the cladding sector, while ongoing public finance initiatives have helped us to not just to keep the tills ringing, but also put us in with a fighting chance of achieving a new record in sales for the full year. We also salute construction industry leaders such as main contractors and the merchant sector for maintaining prompt payment terms, enabling liquidity to flow through to sub-contractors. In each of the previous three recessions I’ve experienced, the industry’s first reaction has been to put the cheque book in the safe and throw away the key. Not this time though.
Looking towards 2021, we are upbeat about the future. It’s likely that the government’s post-Covid economic strategy will involve significant infrastructure investment, including schools, hospitals and housing. Meanwhile we continue to invest in the growing off-site fabrication market, with new CNC routers, saws and turret punches, as well as new premises in the UK and Ireland.
Life is still tough in the medium-term – and we don’t need another lockdown – but with a healthy net cash pile providing insulation from the cold economic winds, we remain positive and ready for the upturn.