The UK is currently on course to leave the European Union at the end of this month, and Brexit will doubtless signal change in the construction industry. The government have made a number of announcements that give cause for optimism; irrespective of party politics, it could be a good thing that the government now have a clear majority, enabling more stability and certainty to policies, changes and the way that the country moves forward.

As the current workforce is adjusted, this could lead to a period of uncertainty, especially when dealing with contractors and other professionals involved in the construction process. A large portion of materials and key ingredients in the manufacturing process of products used in construction are also sourced from the EU. For someone to say they have a clear understanding of what a post-Brexit UK construction industry will look like can only be based on guesswork or fantasy. No one really knows what the impact will be.

As a potential example, not long ago, there was a shortage of a chemical used for Phenolic insulation, due to a lack of supply coming from an EU member state. I also remember a time where there was an issue over concrete, originating from a European supplier, and aircrete blocks were in short supply. Perhaps we sometimes underestimate how connected we are and will still be to business in Europe, and how much we rely on each other to build in this country. It would be premature to speculate at this point, but I am confident that we will be able to continue to build in the way that satisfies the population and needs of the country.

The Queen’s speech at the end of 2019 mentioned that improving building safety is high on the government agenda. The building safety bill can take us forward into creating buildings that are better than those we’ve constructed in the past. I hope the recommendations of Dame Judith Hackett (in her post-Grenfell review of building fire regulations and safety) will ensure that the safety of the residents will be a much higher priority than profit. I also hope that this will apply to refurbishment as well: there are still many people in the UK affected by inadequate fire protection in the buildings in which they live, and they are the ones affected rather than those who built the property or profited from its refurbishment or construction. That model feels unsustainable in future.

The government has committed to continued to take steps to meet the target of net zero greenhouse house emissions by 2050, which includes delivering a green infrastructure, investing in carbon capture, offshore wind, nuclear energy and electric vehicle infrastructure, as well as investing in the energy efficiency of homes, schools and hospitals. The government’s ability to deliver this target remains to be seen; in the meantime, I fully believe that it is for the industry stand up and to make a difference to itself when it comes to issues affecting us all, without waiting for the government to impose legislation or sanctions.

The time is long overdue for us to build with the comfort and safety of the next generations in mind; not only to think positively, but to act decisively and practically, remembering that our today will inevitably affect their tomorrow. We can educate organisations we work for, and the customers we serve and work with, about how essential sustainability is for the long-term survival of the planet. We can ask ourselves: do we agree with the ethics of our company? Do we think that the next generation will be happy with the ethics of our company? Could you spread the word about the positive things your company is engaged in? We don’t have to look far to see examples of companies unwilling or unable to change with the times, which collapsed as a result. The same is true on a wider scale: as humans change and grow, we thrive and adapt; when we can’t or won’t change anymore, we deteriorate. The more we can usher our companies towards sustainable change, the more future-proofed we will be.  

So what for 2020? It seems to me that we stand at a crossroads, asking questions about how sustainable our working environment is.

2020 will be less about the services that we provide, and more about how we can replicate the services for the future. Less about the product and more about the perpetuation of the product. More about the value our organisation adds to society, and less about how much money it makes for the people at the top.

We saw the highest ever number of construction industry company insolvencies between July and September 2019[1], and it’s probable that cash flow issues and the risk of supply chain insolvencies will continue in 2020. So it’s a good time to assess the organisations you deal with: their financial health, the services they provide, and the pricing of those services. Are they sustainable? Will they be around tomorrow? Will you be dealing with someone different in that organization once every six months because their staff retention is poor? How will that affect you, in post-Brexit Europe?

Finally, we’ll see a change in Part L regulations in 2020. There have been much comment on this in the construction press; if you’re concerned about the impact on your business or project, at DEA we’re always happy to talk it through with you. We have responded to the consultation to say that we believe it doesn't go far enough, that we can and must change things sooner than 2050.

How might that be possible? Because there’s a huge opportunity here for greater innovation, collaboration, a more deliberate, considered way of building. We can eliminate the disappointment of the performance gap that exists at present as we remake our procedures sustainably. Progress doesn’t have to be frightening, but can invigorate an industry. Even one small voice can make a difference when joined with many others.

We believe 2020 can be a year of action for all of us. Ready or not, we’ll see significant shift and change, so the only question becomes: will you be lagging behind, or speaking up, making courageous decisions and leading the charge?

 

[1] Company Insolvancy Statistics, Insolvancy Service Report, October 2019

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