The latest edition of the Economic & Construction Market Review from industry analysts Barbour ABI reveals that in April 2021, contract awards increased by 58% compared to March to £9.1 billion. This level of activity was last seen in January 2020 and is further evidence of the strength of the construction sector.

Sector analysis shows that residential contract awards increase again in April to £2.5 billion, up from £2.0 billion in March. A strong performance for infrastructure, with total value of contract awards reaching £2.1 billion, the first monthly value over £2.0 billion since January 2020. And the industrial sector activity sees the second highest monthly value on record of £1.2 billion in April, driven once again by warehousing.

Commenting on the figures, Tom Hall, chief economist at Barbour ABI and AMA Research said: “Building on the improvements in the planning environment we reported in March, April saw a bumper month for contract awards of £9.1bn. This is the highest value since January last year. All sectors apart from healthcare saw sizeable monthly increases to well above their long-term average values, particularly the infrastructure and commercial sectors.

“A year on from the start of the Covid-19 pandemic we have finally seen a value that starts to recover some of the lost ground. However, a fall in April’s planning approvals back to previous levels seen over the second half of 2020 may demonstrate that the uncertainty plaguing the sector has not fully cleared. We require a sustained increase over a period of time to fill the weak construction pipeline.”

Download the full report here: https://www.barbour-abi.com/zones/2103032-Snap-Analysis-May-Output-File-v2.pdf

Cedral, the UK’s leading provider of fibre cement slates, has launched a new range of fittings and accessories, further emphasising its long-term commitment to installers and contractors.

Formerly under the brand name of Eternit, Cedral has developed a wide range of high-quality fittings and accessories that perfectly complement its market leading Rivendale, Birkdale, Thrutone Smooth and Thrutone Textured fibre cement slates. Available via a nationwide network of stockists and distributors, the new range includes:

  • An expanded and improved range for ridges and hips – including a new dry ridge ventilation system, end cap and smaller, more compact fibre cement ridges which are 525mm.
  • Verge trims – to fit both new and renovated roofs.
  • Main roof ventilation – including in-line slate vent and new large capacity vent.
  • General fixing – new slater’s tub including copper nails and disc rivets.

To support the new range of roofing accessories, Cedral has produced an extensive portfolio of technical product information including wallcharts, product literature and fixings information which is all available via the company’s website.

Lisa Grosse, brand manager at Cedral, said: “Our mission is help installers and contractors to create beautiful, sustainable and long-lasting homes with the minimum of hassle. Over the last few months, we’ve been working hard behind the scenes to create this new range of fittings and accessories that will bring greater consistency and quality to our slate products.

“Post-lockdown, roofers are now busier than ever – and so our aim is to make it even simpler for them to specify the right fittings and accessories for the job. We’re delighted with the new range and we’re sure this development will be welcomed by the industry.”

All of Cedral’s roofing accessories are BS5534 compliant and are carefully designed, tested and manufactured to save time on-site to provide the best protection for every roofing project.

To find out more about the Cedral accessory range please visit: https://www.cedral.world/en-gb/roofing/fibre-cement-slates/

 

The UK construction grew by 2.6% during the first quarter of 2021 but construction output powered ahead in March by 5.8%, demonstrating that the construction industry is helping to lead economic recovery.

Figures released today by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) show that construction output grew by 5.8% in March 2021, because of growth in both new work (6.7%) and repair and maintenance (4.4%). In March Construction output was 2.4% (£334 million) above the February 2020 pre-pandemic level; repair and maintenance was 7.7% (£377 million) above this level, while new work was 0.5% (£44 million) below.

Quarterly construction output grew by 2.6% in Quarter 1 (Jan to Mar) 2021 compared with Quarter 4 (Oct to Dec) 2020; this was driven by growth in both new work (2.8%) and repair and maintenance (2.2%).

New orders increased by 12.2% (£1,227 million) in Quarter 1 2021 compared with Quarter 4 2020; this follows a fall of 7.8% (£848 million) in Quarter 4 2020 but was 13.3% lower than Quarter 1 2020. However, the annual rate of construction output price growth was 1.8% in March 2021.

Brian Berry, Chief Executive of the FMB said: “Growth in construction output, especially in the repair, maintenance and improvement sector at 4.4%, is good news for small builders and should indicate to the Government that, with the correct support, builders can help drive the UK’s wider economic recovery. To maintain this momentum, the Government needs to build on this success and support Britain’s builders in building back better with a commitment to a long-term retrofit strategy to make our existing homes greener and more energy efficient.

“The Government should also use its Skills Bill to ensure the right training is available to fill persistent shortages in the traditional trades, such as bricklaying and plastering, as well as new skills to address net zero. And without compromising quality, the Planning Bill offers the valuable opportunity to reverse the decline of small house builders if we are to deliver the new homes the country needs.”

 

BW: Workplace Experts has recently completed the strip out, Cat B fit out and refurbishment works on a Government project in Westminster, London. The project involved the internal refurbishment and fitting out of the basement, first, second, third, fourth and fifth floors, together with some selected major plant refurbishments and renewals.

The seven-storey Edwardian building has magnificent traditional features, but its infrastructure required a modern update which would also result in an improvement to associated operational and repair costs. The strip out, fit out and refurbishment works undertaken by BW resulted in a more inclusive workspace for the client, finished with a refreshing, modern design, restoring the space to its former glory.

The refurbishment works were divided into three phases. Phase 1 consisted of the refurbishment and fitting out of the internal and external flexible meeting and conference floor, and one floor of team workspace. Phase 2 saw the same done to the additional main leadership suite including collaboration board rooms, an open workplace, and a breakout space. Phase 3 involved the installation of the additional new canteen with full catering kitchen.

The ground floor of the building is primarily occupied by the main reception area and a variety of retail units.

Team workspaces constructed by BW included open plan and collaborative spaces, meeting rooms, focus pods, communal hubs including tea points, banquette seating, break out spaces, re-fit of WCs including gender neutral superloos, accessible and ambulant toilets (another type of accessible toilet.)

BW also successfully completed a live comms upgrade whilst maintaining full operations, closely managed with the client’s IT team and FM Manager, as well as a performing a new mechanical and electrical install including the refurbishment of air handling units on the roof whilst maintaining air quality and the installation of a new generator.

At the beginning of each phase, BW mapped out a floor plan that graphically illustrates the programme. This aided the client in notifying building occupants of noisy working activities that were also agreed and built into the supply chain contract.

The revived workspace represents a true step change in the quality of workspace for this busy department. The new design has delivered a modern open plan office, enlivened with bright and vibrant colours and bold signage, exposed services and wall textures that have been carefully considered to create a space that will be truly inclusive for all.

Working with a building that needed to remain operational presented challenges, but BW made the process effective, and enjoyable – especially in terms of flexibility with day to day and even hourly adjustments to allow inter-department visits.

The project team included: MACE as project manager M&E designer, and quantity surveyor; with Gensler as architect.

A new paper co-authored by  property consultants Gleeds,  engineering and design consultancy Arup, hospitality company IHG Hotels and Resorts, and energy management and automation specialist Schneider Electric, has revealed how the hotel industry can tackle the net zero carbon challenge and save £millions in the process.

Entitled ‘Transforming Existing Hotels to Net Zero’, the team compiling the research used a real-life case study to consider what opportunities exist to decarbonise existing hotels and drive operational energy to net zero carbon.  With energy consumption typically accounting for as much as 60% of a hotel’s emissions they considered a range of interventions, the initial cost of which was balanced against the potential long-term savings in a bid to develop a methodology that could be applied industry wide.

Before intervention, the test premises used for research was found to produce the equivalent of the carbon sequestered by 24,000 trees planted in the UK. Through the implementation of operational changes alone, the study revealed that huge potential reductions in carbon emissions of more than 130 tonnes CO2e and substantial savings of over £112,000 in yearly energy bills could be achieved.

Gillian Breen, Director for Hotels and Hospitality at Gleeds added, “Gleeds is passionate about the future of our planet and committed to creating a sustainable built environment for the people and communities that live on it. This paper identifies opportunities to improve performance and reduce energy use, using both physical interventions and intelligent review of building operations. The real-life case study considers realistic, pragmatic interventions that will absolutely deliver energy and cost savings for hotel operators across the globe.”

The study offers invaluable insights into how controlling and optimising operations can play its part, before going on to suggest a raft of ‘active’ measures, such as switching from gas powered equipment to low carbon electricity and outlining the impacts of generating renewable energy. In total, the test case was revealed to have the potential to reduce its annual energy bill by £467,000 per annum and cut its carbon emissions by a whopping 483 tonnes if all measures were implemented.

Spearheading the project, Simon Gill, Hotels and Leisure Business Leader at Arup said, “We are acutely aware that the majority of the hotels we’ll be using in 2050 are already built, so it is essential that we start to scrutinise these buildings if we’re to avoid them becoming stranded assets. The last year of lockdowns has actually given us a once in a lifetime opportunity to scrutinise their carbon footprint with negligible human influence. This enabled us to conduct in-depth analysis and significantly improve the industry’s understanding of how we can transform existing hotels to be net zero carbon.”

Catherine Dolton, Chief Sustainability Officer & VP Global Corporate Responsibility, IHG Hotels & Resorts said, “The hotel industry’s global footprint presents an important opportunity to reduce emissions at scale. This research reinforces the fact that progress will be best achieved through collaboration, best practice sharing and solutions that make a positive difference. Given the impact of Covid-19 on the hotel industry, the availability of government incentives will also be key to enable hotel owners to fund the measures needed to decarbonise their properties.”

Michael Sullivan, Segment President for Buildings with Schneider Electric concluded, “Schneider Electric believes that buildings of the future need to be safe, healthy, and people-centric, however there is currently very little support and few resources available to help investors choose the best approach and calculate the financial investment required. We hope the novel research presented in this paper can help to answer these important questions. This is an excellent practical illustration of how the right plan, technology, and execution can help hotels achieve net-zero carbon goals with a significant return on investment.”

To read the paper in full, download ‘Transforming Existing Hotels to Net Zero’.

 

The legislative programme outlined in the Queen’s Speech yesterday is a further step towards recovery from the pandemic. During the last 12 months the government has seen the construction industry as an integral part of its recovery strategy under the ‘Build Back Better’ banner. Adrian JG Marsh considers some of yesterday’s announcements.

What’s clear is the government remains committed to boosting housebuilding and making home ownership a reality for new generations. It also intends to continue to invest in infrastructure as part of its ‘levelling-up’ agenda. These are essential if it wants to remain in power.

What’s concerning is the solutions appear to favour large corporates and don’t seem to encourage the SME supply chain. SME’s are the engine room for  specialist contractors and are a critical component of a vibrant supply chain.

For too long there have been headlines highlighting the skills shortages. If the supply chain is to play its part in recovery and growth it will have to commit to training and boosting skills among the existing work force as well as attract new entrants to fill the gaps left by an ageing workforce and EU worker vacating the UK for other markets.

What detail appears in the proposed Skills and Post-16 Education Bill, will be crucial to developing home grown talent. It is intended to deliver the Lifetime Skills Guarantee, which will be fundamental to bridging the skills gaps and giving us a workforce that can deliver projects to the right standard, safely and on time.

Skills shortages in construction have become a constant feature. There was a skills crisis when the CITB was created more than half a century ago and there is still a skills shortage. Reports regularly highlight shortages of all key trades such as  bricklayers, carpenters, dryliners, plasterers and scaffolders.

If we are to Build Back Better and tackle climate change issues, then bolstering the UK’s skills and training environment is fundamental to recovery and continuing growth. Improvements should strengthen the links between employers and colleges. Employers need to train more, but equally colleges must deliver skills that employers want.

In the construction sector, local SME contractors train 71% of all construction apprentices and must be at the heart of these plans. The major contractor model is geared towards managing trade contractors and not directly employing workers. It is therefore essential specialists redouble their efforts to ensure government understand who actually delivers construction jobs and services.

The existing housebuilding sector is expected to deliver 300,000 homes every year.  To achieve these targets the government has to diversify the housing market and reverse the decline of SME house builders, who built 40% of all new homes in the 1980s but only build 12% today.

The government’s commitment to changing the planning system through the Planning Bill and reduce bureaucracy is good news. While greater flexibility, simplicity, and responsiveness is needed to tackle the barriers that add time and cost, we must not compromise the quality of the homes that are built. So it is vital that high standards in design and build are not affected as a result, and that any overhaul doesn’t in fact add further delays.

With COP26 taking place in Glasgow later this year the Queen’s Speech also recommitted the government to delivering Zero Carbon. But the government should be looking beyond new build to achieve this objective. There are more than 20 million energy inefficient homes in the housing stock, so the government should back a long-term plan to retrofit these homes so they are fit for the twenty-first century and help to make Zero Carbon a reality as part of building back better.

Almost half (45 per cent) of furloughed construction workers are anxious about their return to work, according to recruiter Randstad. The survey also found that 84% of construction workers still have concerns about Covid.

The poll of almost 1,400 construction workers from across the UK highlighted the relationship between post-furlough anxiety and the failure to offer best practice HR.  Only 18 per cent of those who had returned and classified their returning experience as “very good” were anxious.  In contrast, of those construction workers who had either no onboarding or an experience they regarded as either “poor” or “very poor”, 92 per cent were anxious on their return to work.

Adrian Smith, senior director of operations at Randstad UK said: “Normally the onboarding process would be reserved for introducing newly hired employees into an organisation.  But these aren’t normal times and workers who have been furloughed for a year will benefit from some help integrating back into the wider company.  It might be arduous for some teams who are spread pretty thin at the moment but while standard onboarding might be expected to last for a couple of weeks to be effective, post-furlough onboarding is much shorter.  Done properly, it will help employees feel more confident and competent when they get back on the job.  It’s about investing the time to protect well-being and to ensure a productive returning workforce.”

Some industries are diligently onboarding furloughed staff returning to work – while others have failed to embrace it.  While a third of furloughed employees (34 per cent) receive either no (or very poor) onboarding on their return to work, this rose to 38 per cent of employees in Construction.  Manufacturing was better (27 per cent) as was Rail – where only 17 per cent said they had no or very poor on boarding.

Adrian Smith said: “It’s worrying that such a high proportion of employees in sectors like construction aren’t getting the onboarding attention they deserve.  Once construction rejoiced in a reputation for being quite old-fashioned.  But I thought we’d kicked the days of sub-standard HR in the industry into the long grass.”

Equally, only 36 per cent of those construction workers who had weekly check-ins with their organisations said they were nervous about returning to work, compared 46 per cent who have bimonthly check-ins or 67 per cent who had no check-ins at all.

Adrian Smith said: “The more that staff communicate, the better they work together  – accomplishing goals, developing skills, and giving and receiving feedback.  While furlough has changed the purpose of the check-in somewhat, the importance of keeping the lines of communication open remains undiminished.  While check-ins should appear relatively casual to employees, even in these strange times, managers need to follow a loose structure to ensure the time is used wisely, including preparation and taking notes.”

Across the UK, the improvements in staff wellbeing driven by more regular check-ins shrank with age.  Younger workers (18-35) with monthly check-ins were 13 per cent happier than those with bimonthly check-ins.  Middle aged employees were 12 per cent happier.  But workers over 68 only saw a 5 per cent uplift.

Adrian Smith said: “While there’s still a strong correlation between the two, the positive impact regular check-ins make on employees’ well-being diminishes with their age.   Older workers may be less likely to feel their boss is investing time in them and be more likely to feel their boss is wasting their time.  There’s a fine line between checking-in on a valued member of the team – and checking-up on them.”

Seventeen in every twenty (84 per cent) construction workers in the UK say they have concerns about Covid-19 at work – comparable to the rail (81 per cent), engineering (83 per cent) and manufacturing (85 per cent).  By far the most common concern is catching the virus – with 40 per cent saying they are worried they will catch it at work while 38 per cent are worried for their family’s health as a result.  Three in every twenty (13 per cent) say they are worried by its impact on their organisation.

But the least concerned workers are those over 68, a full 24 per cent of whom say they have no concerns about covid at work.  At the other end of the spectrum, 85 per cent of 26-35 year olds say they are worried about covid at work.

Adrian Smith said: “Clearly, there is nervousness up and down the country about Covid and workers’ concerns are not limited to whether or not you might catch it.  It’s important for employers to make their teams feel safe in their working environment.”

Continuing recovery in construction activity is at risk from shortages in labour and materials according to industry leaders according to reports from contractors and consultants. Increasing red-tape is also affecting imports of construction products coming into the UK from the EU, resulting in rising costs and delivery delays.

The concerns are highlighted in the National Federation of Roofing Contractors (NFRC) trade survey. The Q1 State of the Roofing Industry survey produced by Glenigan for NFRC reports contractors experiencing significant growth in workloads during the first quarter of 2021 but were hampered by recruitment difficulties and continued material shortages and price rises.

Over two thirds of roofing specialists (68 per cent) reported shortages of materials. In particular, concrete roof tiles remained the top shortage area closely followed by timber battens, insulation, slate, and clay tiles. Shortages, as well as the rising prices of raw materials, has meant 89 per cent of respondents reported price inflation.

NFRC Chief Executive James Talman said: “The roofing industry continued to perform well in the first quarter of this year, with roofers reporting that workloads, enquiries and employment were all up. However, there are simply not enough roofers to deliver the amount of demand we are seeing. One in every two roofing contractors are currently struggling to find skilled operatives. This is exacerbating the other challenges roofing contractors are also facing, such as finding materials and managing their cashflow.”

Glenigan’s Economics Director Allan Wilen said: “Repair, maintenance and improvement work and new house construction have been the best performing areas. Roofing contractors anticipate that the recovery in workload will be sustained over the next twelve months as the UK economy is unlocked, with new enquiries pointing to a broad-based rise in activity. However, shortages of skilled labour and materials will be a potential brake on the pace of the recovery.”

Consultancy giant Aecom has also reported in its most recent market forecasts that global supply chain disruption. It says the pandemic, logistics issues, unwinding of stockpiles built up prior to Brexit and now restocking demand, restarted construction activity, further workforce constraints as a result of emigration, and higher costs from permanent Brexit non-tariff barriers are all combining to bring a supply crunch in the first half of this year. All this is taking place against a backdrop of less total output than before the pandemic.

Aecom’s Brian Smith told Building magazine that EU firms which had stopped exporting into the UK were likely to be SMEs. He suggested that if the trend  spreads across the whole EU to UK supply chain, it could lead to further disruption and higher prices for materials until the shortfall is made up by alternative sources of supply.

 

Output in UK construction during April was boosted by the fastest rise in overall new orders since September 2014. However, demand and supply imbalances has seen inflation pick up for the seventh month in a row and reach its highest since the survey began in April 1997.

The headline IHS Markit/CIPS UK Construction PMI® Total Activity Index posted 61.6 in April, down only fractionally from March’s six-and-a-half year peak of 61.7. The index has posted in growth territory in ten of the past eleven months, with January 2021 the exception.

Tim Moore, Economics Director at IHS Markit, which compiles the survey, said: “The UK construction sector is experiencing its strongest growth phase for six-and-a-half years, with the recovery now evenly balanced across the house building, commercial and civil engineering categories.

“New orders surged higher in April as the end of lockdown spurred contract awards on previously delayed commercial development projects. This added to the spike in workloads from robust housing demand and the delivery of major infrastructure programmes such as HS2.”

Duncan Brock, Group Director at the Chartered Institute of Procurement & Supply, said: “Issues around supply chain performance acted as a drag on capacity however as supply constraints on essential materials increased to one of the third highest levels since 1997 when the survey began. Brexit issues remained a factor affecting deliveries from the EU and suppliers generally were struggling to meet the sudden rush in demand leading to shortages of basic materials.

“This inevitably led to the sharpest rise in cost inflation in a generation as builders scrambled to catch up on projects but the biggest rise in job creation since December 2015 also followed, signalling sustainable growth in the sector this summer.”

Commercial work (index at 62.2) was the best-performing broad category of construction output in April, although the rate of expansion eased slightly since March. Survey respondents widely commented on a boost to client demand from rising business confidence and the reopening of the UK economy.

Civil engineering (index at 61.5) bucked the softer overall growth trend in April and signalled its fastest speed of recovery since September 2014. Construction companies often cited increased levels of work on major infrastructure programmes, including contract awards from HS2 and Highways England.

Meanwhile, house building (index at 61.2) continued to rise at a strong pace in April, but the rate of growth eased from March’s recent peak (64.0). There were widespread reports of robust demand for residential building projects and new housing developments.

The growth in new orders has contributed to the steepest rate of job creation across the construction sector since December 2015.

The survey reported that construction companies remained highly upbeat about their growth prospects in April. More than half of the survey panel (57%) expect a rise in business activity during the next 12 months, while only 7% forecast a decline.

The British Woodworking Federation (BWF) Fire Door Alliance has launched an awareness campaign, Be Certain, Be Certified, to highlight the importance of third-party certification of fire doors in improving fire safety standards across the UK. The campaign addresses a “clear lack of understanding” over what certification is and the vital role it plays in protecting lives.

Be Certain, Be Certified calls for the adoption of third-party certification of fire doors throughout all UK buildings to raise the standards of fire door safety and help protect lives. It also provides detailed information on fire door safety ahead of upcoming legislation – the Fire Safety Bill and Building Safety Bill – which will strengthen regulation over fire safety for all building types.

An informational platform, Be Certain, Be Certified offers guidance and resources to anyone who is responsible for specifying fire doors in any UK building. The campaign also gives expert insight into the third-party certification of fire doors, detailing the testing, verification of product performance and manufacturing process controls undertaken by an independent body.

Helen Hewitt, CEO of the British Woodworking Federation said, “Fire doors play an essential role in protecting building occupants from the spread of smoke and fire and can be the difference between life and death. But there is a clear lack of understanding throughout the supply chain over fire door performance and compliance, which means we continue to see fire doors that are not fit for purpose used across the UK, putting lives at risk.

“Ahead of the biggest changes to fire safety legislation in recent times, through the introduction of the Fire Safety and Building Safety Bills and the proposed technical review of Approved Document B, now is the time for all building owners, landlords and specifiers to ensure that their fire doors meet the correct standards. Only through specifying fire doors that are third-party certified can building owners, managers and occupants have peace of mind that their fire doors will be fit for purpose, in terms of fire resistance and smoke control, and perform as designed in the event of a fire.”

Third-party certification of fire doors provides independent evidence of the performance of a fire door and ensures that its performance data was not a one-off result. A robust process, fire door third-party certification requires fire door manufacturers and processors to be audited by a third-party, fire door assemblies to be tested to industry standards and ongoing audits carried out to ensure all products are tested appropriately and produced to a consistent standard.

Third-party certified fire doors manufactured, or modified, by a BWF Fire Door Alliance member, carry a label with a unique code. This provides access to vital information such as the name of the fire door manufacturer or processor, certification information and the product specification and production records. The primary label will also show the fire door rating for its minimum tested burn performance, for example FD30 which denotes a minimum 30-minute burn time.

Helen Hewitt, CEO added: “There is currently no mandatory requirement under Building Regulations for organisations, public or private, to use third-party certified fire doors, and we’ve seen a significant number continuing to use non-certified doors, despite knowing the dangers that improper fire doors pose to building occupants and users.

“At the BWF Fire Door Alliance we believe the only way to ensure a fire door is fit for purpose is through third-party certification. Alongside the Be Certain, Be Certified campaign, we will continue to lobby for a regulated regime of independent third-party certification of fire doors to be enshrined in law to help protect lives across the country.”

For more information about third-party certification and the Be Certain, Be Certified campaign, visit: https://firedoors.bwf.org.uk/be-certain-be-certified/