The British Safety Council has raised concerns surrounding the new Building Safety Act. The news follows comments from Clive Betts MP, chair of the Housing, Communities and Local Government select committee, this week that the Government’s new building safety proposals are ‘full of holes’.

The British Safety Council shares concerns that the current regime governing building safety is considered to be not fit for purpose and in clear need of reform to ensure tragedies like the Grenfell fire do not happen again.

The aims of the Government’s draft legislation address the main issues safety, but the Council’s view is it lacks the requisite detail to demonstrate that the proposed measures would be effective in practice.

The British Safety Council has said it supports greater independent oversight on key professions in the construction and building management sectors to ensure the success of the newly created roles of accountable person and building safety manager. However, the Council is calling on the Government to clarify what the precise responsibilities will be. It must make the new requirements and responsibilities on the different sectors involved clear from the outset if these are to be effective.

Mike Robinson, the British Safety Council’s chief executive, said: “If the new regulations are to secure public confidence, they need to be transparent.  A good example is on the testing of building material. The tests themselves must be rigorous to prove fire safety but the results must be publicly available, particularly where materials have failed to meet regulatory standards.

“We have said, on many occasions, that it is unacceptable for leaseholders to be presented with huge bills to fix existing fire problems not of their making or be unable to sell or insure their homes due to new requirements.

“The Government must commit to funding the cost of fire remediation and leaseholders should not have to foot the bill.”

The Construction Leadership Council (CLC) has updated its Industry Card Schemes Recommendation, which requires the use of cards carrying the CSCS logo, to increase the uptake of smart technology.

The aim is to ensure a consistent approach across the industry so that the information held by cards can be easily accessed by sites of all sizes and used to improve building quality and safety.

CSCS Partner Card Schemes are at various stages of integrating smart technology and will be working with CSCS to determine the most effective meansof meeting the CLC’s requirement which is:

By 31 March 2022, all card schemes must use smart technology which has the capability to electronically check agreed information relevant to a cardholder, using a common interface, without the need to manually enter data.

The CLC recommendation has been adopted across the industry since its introduction in 2015. Sites are asked to use the technology available to ensure cards are genuine and that workers have the appropriate qualifications and training for the occupation they are undertaking.

With changes in apprenticeship standards across all four nations, the CLC recommendation has also been updated to confirm that these will be recognised by all CSCS Partner Schemes as an appropriate route to achieving a card:

Nationally recognised apprenticeships in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will be accepted as meeting the minimum standard.

CLC Task Force member Mark Reynolds said: “The need to validate and verify the training, qualification, skills andcompetence of construction workers has been brought into sharp focus since the Grenfell Tower Fire. The CLC is keen to see technology used across the industry to enable everyone to access and use the information we hold to make better decisions.

“I would like to thank Build UK for carrying out and sharing the results of itsannual Smartcard Audit, which identified the need to clarify the CLC recommendation, as well as CSCS and its Partner Schemes for theircommitment and support to adopting smart technologies.”

The EY ITEM Club has published an interim forecast that downgrades the near-term growth prospects for the UK economy but it still expects slightly improved expansion in 2021.

The key findings from the interim forecast of the EY ITEM Club is that UK GDP will contract by 11.6% in 2020, a deterioration on the 10.1% decline expected in October’s Autumn Forecast. GDP grew 15.5% q/q in Q3 2020, down from the 16-17% forecast in October. The EY ITEM Club does not expect the UK economy to return to its pre-pandemic size until late 2023.

The economy is expected to expand 6.2% in 2021, a slight improvement from previously expected growth of 6.0%. However, should the UK trade under World Trade Organization rules from 1 January 2021, the EY ITEM Club expects growth to fall to 5.0% in 2021 and 3.5% in 2022.

Last week research from Builders’ Conference reported that more than £5.7 billion in new contract awards were recorded during November. The figure is unusually high for November which is generally the month in which the sector traditionally begins to  slow ahead of the Christmas shut down.

The impact of the pandemic, however, was reinforced this week when MACE revealed that the group’s 2020 turnover was expected to be around £1.7 billion, down  from £1.8 billion in 2019. Consultancy workload is holding up but construction revenue is expected to be down £400 million to £1.26 billion for this year

 

STEPs – the Specialist Technical Education Programs, innovative online learning and training for tradesmen working in the interior fit-out and building finishes sectors, has been accredited by CITB, the Construction Industry Training Board. STEPs training is for contractors who want to target zero defects, control costs and improve safety. 

STEPs was conceived in response to the Hackitt Report. In trials it has been show to improve productivity, reduce defects and provide an audit trail of competence training for operatives and management. A robust audit trail means it will help contractors meet their obligations under the new Building Safety Act.

CITB has now recognised STEPs as an approved skills training course within the fit-out and building finishes sector. Employers registered with CITB can apply for grants to cover the cost of a STEPs training course.

Designed as an easy to use online application, STEPs works alongside existing NVQs and apprenticeships. It also fills the gaps in knowledge and awareness by usingultra-high resolution graphics to show the detail of typical ceiling and wall systems and indicate how they should be installed and what potential snags to be aware of.

Steve Halcrow, the co-founder and operations director, said: “STEPs is part of our commitment to help contractors achieve zero defects. It gives employers an opportunity to benchmark knowledge and competence of ceiling, drylining, and firestopping teams and strengthen skills in a proactive way rather than responding to a problem.

“Online e-learning courses like STEPS are an alternative to face-to-face training, so that construction workers can learn at their own pace, at any time, remotely. Making sure that everyone has access to this information could not be more important, which is why we devised the programme in a clear, concise and digestible format for all levels of literacy.”

For more information about STEPs either contactinfo@eaptitude.co.uk or visit https://youtu.be/IOLxgXTfsLk

 

Construction industry firms that have been involved in anti-competitive practices must “come clean” if they want to minimise the inevitable fines they will face – according to law firm Nelsons.

The warning comes after the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) imposed fines totalling more than £9m on two of the UK’s largest suppliers of rolled lead for breaking competition law.

Following an investigation into suspected cartel conduct, Hertfordshire-based firms Associated Lead Mills Ltd and H.J Enthoven Ltd (trading as BLM British Lead) admitted their roles in anti-competitive arrangements and have been fined £1.5m and £8m respectively.

After handing down the penalties, the CMA’s executive director of enforcement, Michael Grenfell, said the construction industry was firmly under the CMA’s spotlight and those that enter into anti-competitive arrangements run the risk of large fines.

Emma Ward, partner in Nelsons’ dispute resolution department, said: “The CMA has made it clear it is placing a firm focus on the construction industry, and any companies entering into illegal arrangements that restrict competition will be penalised.

“If you think you or your company might have been involved in anti-competitive activity, you should seek legal advice on how best to minimise liability. The CMA has a leniency programme – this allows a party to anti-competitive conduct to avoid fines and prosecution in exchange for reporting the arrangement and cooperating with the investigation.

“The first cartel member to report and provide evidence of anti-competitive arrangements will be granted total immunity from fines and criminal prosecution for any of its co-operating current or former employees or directors, as well as protection from director disqualification proceedings for all of its co-operating directors.

“This is as long as the CMA is not already investigating the cartel, does not otherwise have sufficient information to establish its existence, and the other conditions for leniency are met.”

“If unable to take advantage of the leniency program, a business should consider whether there are other ways to minimise liability: in this case, it is worth noting that the fines were reduced because Associated Lead Mills and BLM ultimately admitted their involvement in cartel activity.”

Following the investigation, which started in July 2017, the CMA found that four anti-competitive arrangements took place between October 2015 and April 2017. The CMA found that Associated Lead Mills and BLM had colluded on prices, exchanged commercially sensitive information, shared the market (including by arranging not to target certain customers and that they had arranged not to supply a new business that might disrupt their existing customer relationships and also compete with them).

Midland Lead – a family-owned company that has been manufacturing machine cast lead for the past 37 years – is actively against cartels, stating that they not only tarnish the reputation of the industry, but also cheat customers.

Boudewijn Tuinenburg, managing director at Midland Lead, said: “It is good news that this investigation has now come to a close and those companies involved in such anti-competitive arrangements have been, rightly, fined.

“We are disappointed the lead industry has hit the headlines with such a negative focus. The severity of this case has an adverse effect on the lead industry as a whole, and contractors and builders’ merchants have likely been prejudiced by the activities of those involved.

“We have never been a part of the arrangements between Associated Leads Mills and BLM British Lead or agreements with any other rolled lead sheet manufacturer and we pride ourselves on operating with integrity. We work independently and welcome competition as we know it encourages innovation and pushes for excellence in customer service.

“Now, more so than ever, we should be focusing on the positive aspects of lead. We are keen to continue to work with companies that share our values, tackling wider issues such as the skills shortage, training and encouraging sustainable manufacturing within construction. These issues are more achievable with a strong lead industry, where manufacturers and contractors work together.”

Lynn Street, marketing and sales manager at Midland Lead, added: “We have successfully grown our business in the UK and overseas by being innovative, customer-focused and providing high quality products in an ethical manner.

“Together as one industry sector, we can promote lead, share innovative ideas and fund research. However, the fact of the investigation and subsequent fines mean that as an industry, we will never be able to sit down in one room without suspicion – and that is unfortunate for the entire sector.”

According to research commissioned by the CMA in 2018, 77% of UK businesses admit to not understanding competition law, with 79% of respondents stating they regularly meet with rivals in social situations.

Emma, who is Midland Lead’s solicitor, said: “It’s important that businesses understand the rules. An anti-competitive arrangement can be reached informally over a beer – it doesn’t need to be documented by a formal, written agreement.

“The informal nature of some business deals, coupled with the lack of knowledge, means that there is a real risk of crossing the line without realising it.

“An infringement of competition law can occur at any level in a supply chain, with anti-competitive practices ultimately depriving customers of the efficiency, innovation and fair pricing that fair competition encourages. In addition, such practices can make it extremely difficult for other businesses that aren’t part of the arrangement to survive and grow.

“The CMA can investigate if it has reasonable grounds to suspect there has been anti-competitive behaviour. The investigation itself can be stressful as the CMA can demand information (backed by sanctions of a fine if the request is not complied with), attend premises unannounced and require that questions are answered by any person connected with the business – from temporary staff, through to the MD.

“If competition law is found to have been infringed, the consequences are serious and can damage a business as well as an individual’s career. Companies can be fined up to 10% of their annual worldwide turnover, individuals can face prosecution, and directors can be disqualified. Businesses can also suffer reputational damage. In this case, Associated Lead Mills and BLM were handed reduced fines as they admitted their involvement in Cartel activity. The amounts involved really do demonstrate just how serious the financial ramifications of an infringement of competition law can be.

“Proactive compliance is essential. It’s important to make sure your business has a written competition law compliance policy and detailed staff training programme in place. A major risk factor is a lack of internal competition law awareness within a business, so these are vital to avoiding serious penalties.”

Previously, the CMA had provisionally found that a third company – Calder Industrial Materials Ltd – had become involved in one of the anti-competitive arrangements at a later stage. The CMA has now decided there are no grounds for action in respect of Calder and has closed its investigation into the firm.

New research has found that the UK wall cladding market has seen reduced demand from key end-use sectors since 2017, recording only modest growth of 13% in total installed area between 2015 and 2019. Rainscreen wall cladding was the fastest-growing product in the Wall Cladding Sector

Researchers at AMA Research found that the Covid-19 pandemic has had a profound effect on the market. Site closures in early spring 2020 lead to project delays and, in some instances, product shortages, as contractors and manufacturers adapted to safer production and working practices.

Looking to a positive, rainscreen cladding has benefitted from increased retrofitting on offices and apartment blocks as the need to protect structures from extreme weather and water ingress has increased.

Jane Tarver, editor of the Wall Cladding Market Report at AMA Research said: “Rainscreen cladding systems have been a fast-growing product sector in recent years, estimated to have quadrupled in terms of area installed from 2013 levels. The main area of application has been offices, although there has also been strong demand for use on residential towers, demand further boosted by the requirement to replace unsafe ACM cladding on a number of high-rise residential buildings in the wake of the Hackitt Review into the Grenfell Tower disaster. As a result of the ban on use of ACM cladding with a polyethylene core on high rise residential developments, the market share of these types of products and systems will be impacted while others will gain market share from changes in product specification”.

Grenfell and the Hackitt review continues to influence the market. With a ban on the use of ACM cladding this has led to an increased demand for products with the highest level of fire safety classifications such as stone, glass wool, concrete and fibre cement.

Following decline of around 13% for installed cladding area (million m2) in 2020, the market is forecast to return to growth in 2021 thereafter seeing annual increases of around 4-5% to reach around 48 million m2 by 2024.

The government has promised to invest in UK infrastructure including building new school and the hospitals it announced last year to help stimulate the recovery from Covid-19.The plans were unveiled as part of the one year Spending Review presented by the chancellor Rishi Sunak.

The Spending review announced the next phase of the government’s infrastructure revolution with £100 billion of capital expenditure next year, to kickstart growth and support hundreds of thousands of jobs. It gives multi-year funding certainty for select projects – such as school and hospital rebuilding, housing and transport schemes – and targets additional investment in areas which will improve the UK’s competitiveness in the long-term, backing new investments in cutting-edge research and clean energy sources

Rain Newton-Smith, CBI Chief Economist said: “A new National Infrastructure Bank, long-term funding for innovation, and a comprehensive plan for creating jobs and renewing skills are just some of the building blocks needed to deliver on this vision. It’s right to take this opportunity to plan for tomorrow.

“But ambition must be matched by action on the ground. The Government’s commitment to build, build, build must be delivered now. This means a clear strategy to upgrade the UK’s infrastructure and publishing the Energy White Paper.”

Simon Rowland, Partner and Head of Construction and Engineering, at law firm Womble Bond Dickinson said: “The Construction industry is responding better than expected to the difficulties caused by the pandemic, as well as having to deal with the challenges of preparing for the end of the Brexit Transition Period next month. One of the keys to unlocking the potential from these investments will be the need for all parties in the construction process to collaborate and innovate.”

The Construction Products Association’s Economics Director, Professor Noble Francis, said: “Together with the spring 2021 launch of a new National Infrastructure Bank, we have reason to be encouraged that government is taking real steps, beyond simple headlines, in delivering an infrastructure sector that truly underpins UK construction and the wider economy.”

Brian Berry, Chief Executive of the FMB, welcomed investment in  apprenticeships and training:  “SMEs train 71% of apprentices in construction and are ready to help support new jobs in the sector. While the confirmation of funding for further education, £375m through the life time skills guarantee, and a particular reference to apprenticeship changes to help SMEs are all steps in the right direction, colleges will need more support if we are to cover the existing gaps in traditional construction skills like bricklaying, let alone train people in much needed green construction techniques.”

R&D spending in the UK construction industry has jumped 11.5% annually to a new record high, according to the latest ONS data. Total construction sector spending on R&D rose to £417m last year, an increase of £43m from the £374m recorded a year earlier1.

The industry now employs 6,000 people directly involved in R&D, however, the rate of growth in R&D spending has slowed from the 16.9% rise recorded in 2018.

Uncertainty surrounds what impact the Covid-19 pandemic will have on the level of investment this year, though the construction sector continues to pursue a range of technological advances, not least progress in Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) and environmental performance.

Mark Tighe, chief executive of R&D tax relief specialists Catax, said: “The construction industry continues to harness technological advances that will transform the sector over the next decade. It’s certain that the total amount spent on R&D will only increase across the sector but it remains to be seen what impact the coronavirus will have on spending this year.

“While companies typically take a very long term view on R&D, laying the ground work for the future, the disruption to the economy and working life this year has been so dramatic that a dent in the industry’s track record of consistent growth in R&D spending would surprise no one.”

The amount that UK businesses across all sectors have invested in R&D continues to grow, rising 3.3% to £25.9bn2 but this was the slowest rate of growth since 2012.

The pharmaceutical sector posted the largest increase in R&D expenditure, with an increase of £306m (6.9%) to £4.8bn.

The largest percentage terms increase in R&D spending was achieved by the printing, pulp and paper industry, which saw a 31.4% increase to £92m.

The number of people employed by UK businesses to perform R&D also continued to grow, rising 4.4% annually to reach 263,000 full-time equivalents2.

 

The construction of new offices in central London has declined by half (50%) in six months, according to Deloitte Real Estate’s latest London Office Crane Survey. The crane survey analysed office construction data over the six months to 30 September, and included a poll of London’s biggest developers conducted at the end of September.

Siobhan Godley, partner and head of Deloitte Real EstateDeloitte Real Estate, said: “This crane survey shows a decline in new construction starts to just 2.6 million sq ft across central London. This is down significantly on our previous survey, but remains broadly in line with the survey’s long-term average. Notably, a higher than average 40% of new construction starts have already been pre-let, indicating less speculative construction.”

The total office space under construction in central London is now 15.1 million sq ft. This is similar to the level recorded in the previous survey (15.3 million sq ft, the highest since 2002) as developments are now taking longer to complete.

Mike Cracknell, director at Deloitte Real Estate, said: “Our data reveals that 3.3 million sq ft of office construction was not completed as scheduled between April and September and remains under construction. Had these projects completed on time, the total volume under construction would be almost a quarter lower.

“Of the developers we surveyed, a clear majority – 85% – pointed to weak tenant demand as the major obstacle to starting any new development. Until there is more clarity about occupiers’ office plans, developers will hesitate to embark on new projects, particularly speculative ones. Nonetheless, the news about vaccines has already resulted in a re-rating of real estate stocks, and may see both a bigger shift back to the office in the short term, and a strengthening of investor demand in London offices over the medium term.”

The reluctance start new construction has led to a shift towards major refurbishments. The survey found that more than two thirds of the new construction starts involved an extensive upgrade of existing office stock across 28 separate projects. “By transforming outdated buildings into COVID-safe, high-quality workspaces, developers are looking to upgrade and futureproof their offices in a market where occupational demand is increasingly discerning,” added Cracknell.

The City of London, which dominated construction activity in previous surveys, has seen new construction activity fall by 60% to 1.2 million sq ft across 10 schemes. Office development in the West End remained at the same level as in the previous survey, with 12 new starts breaking ground, equivalent to 500,000 sq ft. The Southbank saw five new starts over the summer, amounting to 350,000 sq ft, and Midtown observed a small uptick in new construction activity, with 500,000 sq ft across eight refurbishment schemes.

Ms. Godley concluded: “The UK is leading the way with remote working across Europe. Nearly three quarters (72%) of UK employees would like to work remotely more often in the future – 10% higher than that of European peers. Developers and investors are acutely aware of this growing trend and are thus in a state of suspension before committing to new projects, until there is more clarity in the market and occupiers reveal their future of work strategies.”

The latest edition of the Economic & Construction Market Review from industry analysts Barbour ABI, shows that the total value of construction contract awards in October 2020 fell by 9.4% to £4.9 billion based on a three-month rolling average. Residential work represents more than one third of all contract awards and the North West region saw the largest increase in awards, pushing London into second place.

The Barbour ABI report highlights levels of construction contract values awarded across Great Britain and in the three months to October 2020, total contract awards were valued at £14.7 billion which is 75.7% higher than for the previous quarter and is also 1.3% higher than for the comparable quarter ending October 2019. There was an increase of 8.7% for contract award numbers this month at 871 compared to September. Annual comparisons show marginal (0.8%) improvement.

The North West was the leading region in October with 19.8% of awards and a total of 120 projects. The second largest region was London with value share of 13.8%, whilst tying for third place was the East of England and Scotland both with 11.1% of awards.

Analysis by sector indicates that residential maintained lead status in October accounting for 36.8% of awards. Underpinned by some major civils awards, infrastructure was the second largest region this month with 22.2% of awards and 131 projects.

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Commenting on the figures, Tom Hall, Chief Economist at Barbour ABI and AMA Research said, “The value of contract awards decreased from £5.4 billion in September to £4.9 billion in October but the number of awards continued to increase month on month.

“It is encouraging that since coming out of the first UK-wide lockdown, contract awards remain at long-term average levels. While there remain many downside risks, more positive news has emerged over the last month, not least construction sites staying open over the second lockdown plus positive vaccine trials. We therefore have a greater level of confidence that activity will be maintained over the short term.”

Download the full report here: http://ubm.io/2FRLrwm