Last weeks fall in construction output as a result of material shortages, price increases and skills shortages, is causing concern among SME contractors raising fears that their ability to recover from the pandemic is being restricted. The FMB is call for more action to tackle shortages.

The FMB’s most recent membership survey highlighted that a crisis in the availability of building materials and a resurgent skills shortage were holding smaller builders back.  98% of FMB members experienced material price increases through Q2 2021 and around 50% were struggling to recruit key trades such as bricklaying and carpentry.

Brian Berry, chief executive of the Federation of Master Builders (FMB), said: “It’s concerning that construction output in June fell for the third consecutive month. These figures paint a disconcerting picture for Britain’s smaller building firms, the majority of whom undertake repair, maintenance and improvement work.

“It’s now clear that while construction’s initial recovery from the pandemic was impressive, it was not wholly assured in the long-term. Action needs to be taken to limit the impact of the materials and skills shortages afflicting the sector, so that smaller builders’ business continuity is not threatened.”

The FMB chief executive said: “It’s vital that transparent allocation and pricing policies are implemented to enable SMEs continued and stable access to the materials their businesses require. As these smaller companies also train around 71% of construction apprentices, it’s similarly vital that they continue to be supported in their training of the next generation of tradespeople through an extension to the heightened apprenticeship incentive payments that are in place currently.”

Digital transformation can mean many things. Perhaps, the most obvious is its ability to boost productivity. This is the benefit most touted and championed by Rob Clifton, Asite’s Chief Operating Officer. Here he explains why digital transformation shows great potential to boost efficiency throughout the construction industry.

Digital transformation can mean many different things to different people. Yet, at its core, digital transformation is all about increasing productivity and efficiency.

It’s not just a buzzword for business, but it applies to how we live our normal lives. With technology, we are able to digitally transform the way we do things. Start with the example of how most of us have moved from a paper map to a smart, online one (Citymapper), or how we order food or bank via an app. Monzo is another brilliant example of a user-friendly interface that makes our lives easier.

In fact, the whole premise of digital transformation is to simplify and streamline tasks. So, when we think of complex construction processes, the potential impact of digital solutions is huge.

Overcoming Scepticism in Construction

Based on experience, many of us in the industry believe digital transformation shows great potential for construction. This belief is reinforced by numerous papers that have been published by bodies around the globe, most notably by the global management consultancy, McKinsey.

However, as many of us are aware, a huge hurdle is the construction industry’s reticence to embrace this big change that digital could bring to the industry. This scepticism has meant construction hasn’t been able to fully reap the benefits, even though digital could open up a new frontier for the industry. By comparison, the manufacturing sector has become hugely digitised over the years and is witnessing the benefits because of it.

For example, I experienced the inefficiencies of analogue working in the early stage of my career. I was required to carry lots of paper sign-off documents to and from a site office. I remember saying to myself: There must be a more efficient way of doing this!

The likes of information management systems are streamlining this inefficiency. One of the most compelling technologies in this respect is a Common Data Environment (CDE). A CDE is about having one place where built environment data is held. Users can subsequently access it based on their security roles. This is just one branch of the digital transformation tree – there is so much available for the taking.

Putting the End-User First 

As the digital transformation process evolves, companies are using data extensively to boost productivity. Yet there are obstacles to overcome for digital transformation to reach its full potential.

Right now, the challenge is to connect the ideals of technologists with construction personnel. There’s so much construction tech at our disposal, but the deployment and use are still low in comparison to other industries.

To advance digital transformation, deployment must be a key focus going forward. Implementation can’t just be within the remit of a company’s technical directors and CIO, as these people already know how to use digital solutions. It needs to be filtered down and out across the industry’s horizon. Otherwise, if it isn’t deployed correctly, progress will be slow and the full benefits will never be obtained.

A key focus here is the end-user. The end-user should be able to digest data in a way that is easy for their job, which is a narrative we should promote. An example would be a site engineer who is setting out a piece of work. They need to be able to consume the data in a way that will help them complete a task, having the information they require at hand without the need to search and dig for it.

To a degree, tech companies will have to assume some level of responsibility in order to facilitate this. To achieve this, it is important to understand each person’s needs to see how the technology can improve the way they work. At Asite, we draw on user stories to inform every feature we build. Going into this level of granularity ensures the technology fits the person and process.

What does the future hold?

Let’s face it, the construction industry is fast-paced. When you work in construction, you are constantly going from one project to another project. This can make things very decentralised. It also doesn’t leave a lot of time for reflection and learning, as there is pressure to move to the next job.

It is interesting to note that the pandemic has given many in the industry time to slow down and embrace learning new technologies. Many companies have used this gap to think about what they are doing and where they want to go. Whilst this won’t lead to immediate deployment, it has certainly got a lot of companies thinking about their digital transformation.

Looking to the future, the next step is maximising the penetration of technology and enabling digital transformation across the industry.

For true digital transformation, we can’t just focus on a few companies; everyone – from the field to the back-office – needs to be brought along the way. If the tech isn’t easy to consume, we can’t expect large-scale adoption. What’s critical is to make sure the technology is desirable. If not, I fear successful deployment will exist only as an ideology.

 

The latest Office for National Statistics (ONS), GB construction output has found that output fell 1.3% in June, the largest monthly decline since December 2020. However overall construction output rose more than 3% during the second quarter, April to June of 2021.

Construction output increased by 3.3% in Quarter 2 2021, reflecting a rise in new work (3.7%), particularly infrastructure, and repair and maintenance (with growth of 1.7%). Construction has now nearly recovered to pre-pandemic levels, with output in Quarter 2 2021 at 0.6% below Quarter 4 2019 levels.

There was a decline in output across the three months of the quarter as some businesses reported limited availability of certain construction products, most notably timber, steel, cement and tiles. However, there was still a rise in output compared with Quarter 1 (Jan to Mar) 2021, because of a low base of construction output in the first quarter.

Compared with the same quarter over a year ago, construction increased by 53.2%. This reflects comparison with a lower base level with the first lockdown restrictions severely affecting the industry. Further detail on construction can be found in Construction output in Great Britain: June 2021, new orders and construction output prices, April to June 2021.

Overall UK gross domestic product (GDP) is estimated to have increased by 4.8% in Quarter 2 (Apr to June) 2021, following the easing of coronavirus (COVID-19) restrictions (Figure 1). Monthly estimates published today (12 August 2021) show that GDP increased across all three months at 2.2% in April, 0.6% in May and 1.0% in June 2021.

The level of GDP in the UK is now 4.4% below where it was prior to the coronavirus pandemic at the end of 2019.

There have been calls for long-term thinking, delivery plans and concrete action in response to the landmark Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report published this week. The report warns that within the next 20 years, global temperatures are likely to rise 1.5C above pre-industrial levels, making heatwaves, flooding and droughts more common and extreme.

The report shows that emissions of greenhouse gases from human activities are responsible for approximately 1.1°C of warming since 1850-1900, and finds that averaged over the next 20 years, global temperature is expected to reach or exceed 1.5°C of warming. This assessment is based on improved observational datasets to assess historical warming, as well progress in scientific understanding of the response of the climate system to human-caused greenhouse gas emissions.

Matthew Fell, CBI Chief Policy Director: “If anybody still had any doubts to the scale of the climate crisis, this report must surely put those to bed.

“COP26 must be the trigger for more, urgent action from countries around the world. It requires joint efforts by governments, businesses and consumers.

“Committing to and achieving net zero is paramount and the UK must look to lead by example, establishing the policy and tax frameworks to make it possible.

“Businesses understand the vital role they must play and many are putting net zero plans in place. We need to see more of those commitments and acting on the pledges made, as soon as possible.”

Luke Osborne, ECA Energy and Emerging Technologies Solutions Advisor, said: “The IPCC’s message is stark, yet it’s not surprising. The worst effects of climate change can still be mitigated if we act now and with maximum effort – this really is our last chance to save ourselves from climate crisis.

“The electrotechnical industry is poised to deliver the safe, productive and low-carbon buildings and infrastructure that will meet our immediate and future needs and support the drive towards Net Zero Carbon.

“As host nation of COP26, the onus is on us to lead by example and show how a rapid and professional rollout of insulation, heat pumps, solar panels, EV charging, smart meters, battery storage and much more can make a real impact.”

A new chief executive will start at CITB on 1 September, a former apprentice who brings a strong track record in skills, training and organisational development.

Tim Balcon has led professional and membership bodies, the most notable being as chief executive at the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment, where he transformed its vision and performance, leading to year-on-year growth.

He has also been Chief Executive of the Energy and Utility Sector Skills Council (EU Skills), where he created the National Skills Academy for Power. In this role he led EU Skills to securing significant funding from Ofgem, the energy regulator, after demonstrating the economic risks arising from the skills crisis facing the industry.

Tim’s knowledge of education and skills was reflected in his previous appointment to the board of Ofqual at a time of major education reform, and prior to this he was also a member of the UK Vocational Qualifications Reform Board.

Peter Lauener, CITB Chair, said: “I’d like to welcome Tim to CITB, an outstanding candidate for the post of CEO.  He brings considerable experience in skills and training and strong leadership qualities.

“This is a crucial time for construction skills across Britain, and the Board is looking forward to working with him to drive forward our strategy to meet the skills needs of employers.”

Mark Reynolds, CEO of Mace Group and co-lead of the Construction Leadership Council skills workstream, said: “I am looking forward to working closely with Tim as we address the huge skills challenges we face in construction. Tim’s journey from apprentice to Chief Executive is one that will resonate with the industry and will inspire others to follow in his footsteps.”

Tim Balcon said: “As a former apprentice I know how much having the right skills at a young age can transform your whole career and support your employer. That’s why I’m so passionate about skills and am thrilled to be joining the team at CITB to help many more people join the construction sector and to have long and fulfilling careers within it.”

Barbour ABI is reporting that Overbury, the fit out specialist and part of Morgan Sindall, has scooped the £300m-plus refurbishment project for Citigroup’s Canary Wharf tower.

The Citigroup fit out project is one the largest office fit-out jobs and involves the modernisation of the 45-floor skyscraper at 25 Canada Square. Citigroup bought the tower for £1.2bn in 2019.

Citi has been in the building for 21 years and also occupies 33 Canada Square next door. The latter will house staff while the tower is refurbished in a rolling programme which includes major building services infrastructure replacement, structural and façade works and extensive refurbishment of lifts.

 

Last month the construction industry was struggling to keep up with the demand as shortages of materials, subcontractors and skilled workers slowed growth, according to the latest construction purchasing managers index (PMI).

July PMI data compiled by IHS Markit and CIPS highlighted that the recovery in UK construction output lost momentum since June, with slower growth seen in all three main categories of work. House building remains the best-performing category, but reduced availability of subcontractors and disruption in material supplies was continuing to put upward pressure on prices.

With demand for construction materials continuing to outstrip supply, latest data signalled another steep increase in purchasing prices. Around 81% of the survey panel reported a rise in their average cost burdens during July, while only 1% signalled a decline.

The headline seasonally adjusted IHS Markit/CIPS UK Construction PMI® Total Activity Index registered 58.7 in July, down sharply from June’s 24-year high of 66.3 but still well above the crucial 50.0 no-change threshold. The latest reading signalled the slowest overall increase in construction output since February.

Tim Moore, Economics Director at IHS Markit, which compiles the survey: “Long lead times for materials and shrinking sub-contractor availability were cited as factors holding back work on site. Around two-thirds of the survey panel experienced longer wait times for supplier deliveries in July, while just 2% reported an improvement since the previous month.

“Another rapid increase in purchasing costs was linked to global supply and demand imbalances, but many firms also noted that local issues had amplified inflationary pressures. These included a severe lack of haulage availability, continued reports of Brexit trade frictions, and greater shortages of contractors due to exceptionally strong demand.”

Duncan Brock, Group Director at the Chartered Institute of Procurement & Supply, said: ” The pervasive weaknesses in supply chains along with a lack of staff and contractor availability were laid bare as construction lost some of its get-up-and-go.

“The rampant rise in prices for raw materials and transportation continued to be the construction’s heavy load along with historically long delivery times. Though there was a slight improvement in supplier performance from June’s record low, it was partly as a result of frustrated supply chain managers reining back on purchases that were unlikely to arrive when needed. Businesses were also unable to expand on staff capacity, where even the most prolific hiring periods since 2014 was insufficient for builders’ ability to complete work in hand.

“Faced with transport disruptions, shortages of essentials and Brexit delays, the initial spurt of activity this year is fast hitting the rocks. Building optimism was dampened to the lowest since January as it is difficult to foresee when all these challenges are likely to subside.”

Construction giant Mace has been appointed by Astrea to deliver a new office development at 38 Berkeley Square in London’s Mayfair.

The new scheme will provide 85,000 sq ft of premium office space across nine stories with over 7,000 sq ft of communal terracing. The scheme includes 9,000 sq ft of retail use on the ground and lower floors.

Mace will collaborate with the Astrea team to deliver innovative low carbon solutions, working towards the highest sustainability standards of BREEAM Outstanding, WELL Platinum and LEED Gold. The building will also achieve WiredScore Platinum.

Designed by architects Piercy & Company, the transformation of 38 Berkeley Square will complement the character of the surrounding properties by using a mix of precast facades and Portland stone.

Completion is expected in the first quarter of 2024.

Rob Rotbart, Construction & Cost Director at Astrea, said: “Astrea is excited to be delivering our first major development with Mace at 38 Berkeley Square. Both teams are aligned in driving innovation through construction to deliver a truly long term Net Zero Carbon workplace of the highest calibre.”

Ged Simmonds, Managing Director for Commercial Offices and Residential at Mace, said: “Our team will support the client’s vision for a destination office space with an innovative sustainability strategy, minimising carbon emissions during demolition and build. Drawing on our experience in creating commercial office buildings in the City and heritage developments, we will deliver a new landmark in the heart of Mayfair.”

The RICS Construction and Infrastructure Survey for Q2 2021 confirms that the construction supply chain is struggling to keep up with increasing new housing and infrastructure across the UK. Total workload showed strong growth after 38% of respondents reported a rise. The survey has highlighted problems with the rising cost of materials and staff shortages effecting project delivery.

Growth in the private residential sector continued to lead the construction market, with +50% of respondents reporting an increase in activity (up from +39% in the previous quarter and the strongest reading in the last six years). Meanwhile infrastructure works also saw a bump, with a net balance of +45% reporting an increase (up from +34% in the previous quarter) – with new energy projects in particular being cited as the area behind this growth.

While respondents indicated the construction sector is now broadly recovering well from the COVID-19 pandemic, constraints on the market’s return to normality were also becoming apparent. 82% of respondents pointed to a shortage of materials hampering the market during Q2, up from 57% previously. Moreover, the cost of materials is expected to increase by nearly 10% over the next twelve months, with these projections running ahead of the 7% growth anticipated for tender prices.

The Q2 survey also picked up concerns around labour shortages – both for skilled labour and ‘white-collar’ roles – with a net balance of +64% saying a lack of labour will limit new activity (up from +42% in the previous quarter). As an example, in the case of bricklayers this has jumped from 34% to 58% while for carpenters it has increased from 33% to 55%.

Looking over the next year, respondents predict construction workloads will continue to gather pace, with a net balance of +55% saying more activity is expected (the highest since early 2016) – with new infrastructure and residential expected to continue leading.

Simon Rubinsohn, RICS Chief Economist commented: “Infrastructure and private housebuilding are viewed as likely to remain the most buoyant areas of the industry. Yet it is abundantly clear that a couple of issues present big challenges. Most notably at this point, the availability of building materials stands out as a key problem for respondents to the RICS survey.

“But almost as significantly, labour and skills are increasingly being cited as obstacles for businesses looking to build out existing commitments or embark on new projects. For the time being, the issue appears most visible regarding skilled trades but quantity surveyors are also being highlighted as an area of growing shortage.

“Unsurprisingly against this backdrop, some concern is being expressed about rising construction costs.”

Safety regulations affecting cladding and roofing can be confusing and lead to misunderstandings. Lisa Grosse, brand manager at Cedral, offers some clarity on building material fire classifications – which ones should be relied upon and which should be avoided.

It’s important for architects and specifiers alike to have a sound working knowledge of relevant safety regulations affecting cladding and roofing. However, be it British Standards (BS), Euroclass (EN) or the older Class 0 certification, it’s easy to see how misunderstandings can creep in when assessing product safety. Indeed, our technical advisory team continues to get several enquiries each week on the topic of fire ratings, which even now causes confusion.

We are aware how important it is to understand the characteristics and features of building materials for projects. Cedral has a long-standing commitment to ensuring our fibre cement facades and roofs comprehensively meet the fire performance classification A2-s1,d0 to EN 13501-1:2018 standard. But what do these letters and numbers actually mean? Here we explain all of the fire classification ratings and how they should be used, including Class 0 and why you should avoid it.

In a Euroclass of its own

The European standard of fire safety is the Euroclass system, recognised as the standard of fire safety across Europe. It was introduced by the European Union in 2000 to remove trade barriers between member states and ensure consistent quality levels. It classifies the reaction to fire (the behaviour of materials when exposed to heat or fire) and evaluates multiple aspects such as ignitability, flame spread, heat release, smoke production and propensity for producing flaming droplets and/or particles. The European standard is EN 13501-1, which is met by all Cedral materials. While we are no longer within the Eurozone since Brexit, these regulations still apply to building products sold in the UK.

Top of the class?

The European classification ranks construction materials in seven classes according to their fire behaviour – A1, A2, B, C, D, E and F. It also classifies these materials with regard to smoke development – s1, s2 and s3 – and the formation of flaming droplets/particles – d0, d1, d2.

A1 refers to non-combustible materials, A2 is non-combustible in Scotland and of limited combustibility in England and Wales, while B, C and D range from limited to medium combustibility and E and F designate a high contribution to fire.

‘s’ refers to the total smoke emitted during the first 10 minutes of exposure to fire. s1 materials produce little or no smoke, s2 emit quite a lot of smoke and s3 produce substantial smoke.

The ‘d’ part of the classification covers the number of flaming droplets and particles that are produced within the first 10 minutes of fire exposure, with d0 designating no droplets, d1 some droplets and d2 quite a lot of droplets.

No more Class 0?

UK fire classification Class 0 indicates the surface spread of flames and not the combustibility of the material itself when involved in a fire. It was introduced in the UK Building Regulations on fire safety in 1991 and remained in place after the Euroclass system was introduced in 2000, even though Class 0 does not demonstrate the same performance as the Euroclass system. For example, combustible materials can still achieve a Class 0 classification That’s why it is vital to always refer to the newer ratings and not Class 0.

Class 0 is an out-of-date national product classification and should not be used to determine the fire safety of building materials because it says nothing about the combustibility of the material in a fire.

If you would like more advice on fire classifications for buildings, Cedral’s dedicated technical advisory team can offer expert help. We can support your project from the initial design concept through to build completion and beyond.