The construction sector is continuing to battle for survival and it’s making valiant efforts to keep the industry functioning during the coronavirus crisis. But as the exit strategy debate evolves can the new voice of construction make sure that specialist contractors are heard and understood? Adrian JG Marsh considers the options.
Since the coronavirus crisis started the Construction Leadership Council (CLC) has become the much quoted voice for construction. However, does the unelected council truly have a mandate and does it have the capability to represent and harness the innovative culture of specialist contractors?
How is it that a team of industry leaders can craft guidance to cover safe working site operating procedures to combat the coronavirus crisis in response to growing criticism from the Court of Public Opinion, issue these guidelines in a fanfare, only to have an updated version of Site Operating Procedures withdrawn in a matter of hours because they are unworkable.
Clearly the Great Burghers of Construction who sit on the CLC Coronavirus Taskforce who led this initiative have been found wanting. Those preparing the procedures demonstrated a lack of knowing what it is like to operate at the workface of a construction site. If they had that knowledge they would not have made such a pigs breakfast of a set of safe working procedures.
Part of the problem might come from the fact that of the 14 members of the CLC Taskforce, only one and half have involvement in the specialist subcontracting supply chain that delivers the majority of work on construction sites.
Specialist contractors represent approximately 40% of construction output and they employ on either a PAYE or Labour Only Subcontractor basis, a significant segment of workers who are being put at risk on construction sites. They also accept a considerable amount of the risk on construction contracts.
Public Health England says employers should ensure that employees are able to follow safe working guidelines including, where possible, maintaining a two-metre distance from others. So what happens when, where possible, is not possible?
Clients have a responsibility in setting a new agenda and work constructively with the supply chain to find a safe and an efficient-as-possible way of working. But yet again the fragmented structure of the construction sector stumbled and lost valuable time.
Even the Government has been found wanting. No Government minister had been present at any CLC meeting in 2019. So it really comes as no shock that they don’t know how the construction sector operates. And when they came to appoint a Taskforce, they went to a group of people who, bar one and a half, do not employ the majority of workers who install services and systems on site.
But let’s not get bitter and twisted. Construction must take a lot of the blame for getting to where it is today. It’s structure is fragmented and confusing to outsiders, so there is no wonder that its voice has often been lost so that the Government is unsure who to talk to.
If construction’s to successfully emerge from the crisis and rebuild a strong and dynamic industry it should take stock now and learn a lesson. Out of the tragic events of the coronavirus crisis there will be positives.
It should be welcomed by all that a single group, the CLC, is being seen as the voice of construction. The fragmented and complex network of representative bodies has started to feed concerns up and across the construction landscape to the CLC as the single point of contact with a listening Government.
It might not be perfect at the moment but the CLC has to be retained going forward and help to establish a clear strategy that reignites the whole industry when lockdown ends. Who leads that strategy would do well to recognise that specialists are an integral part of the supply chain, and that they should be more involved, and avoid confrontational factional interests seeking to return to the pre-crisis status quo.
We are all in this crisis together and, perhaps by working together with a single cohesive voice, we might then be able to finally deliver on Sir Michael Latham’s 1994 vision of a truly world class industry and confine fragmentation, inefficiencies, adversarial attitudes, and a lack of respect for employees to history and another era.