Construction industry fears over maintaining output

17/03/2020
Dominic Browne

The construction industry is working with the Government on how best to maintain critical output throughout the coronavirus pandemic.

A spokesperson for business department BEIS confirmed that government was in dialogue with the construction industry about the potential impacts and how to mitigate them.

The spokesperson said: 'The UK is extremely well prepared for these types of outbreaks; we are taking all necessary precautions to protect the public, including engaging with industry and the business community to discuss their preparedness planning.'

Government is advising businesses to build their own resilience by reviewing their business continuity, developing an understanding on the potential impacts to their supply chains or other factors critical to their operations and following the advice for employers available on GOV.UK.

Speaking to Transport Network, Alasdair Reisner, chief executive of the Civil Engineering Contractors Association (CECA), outlined the dangers facing the sector.

'The priority, of course, is to look after workers. Clearly, it's important we recognise when workers are infected or potentially infected and support their isolation. This is very much a developing situation. We are trying to co-ordinate activities across the sector,' he said.

'There is a big challenge to maintain productivity; how and if we can.'

The infrastructure sector is a £100bn industry in the UK alone; however its contractors do not tend to hold large reserves. If 'business critical' worksites close down, even large companies face a torrid future.

'Any halt in output will have a pretty devastating effect. We are in a different world to anything we have experienced before. It is not like 2008.'

Business critical work is distinct from 'safety critical' projects, which are seen as vital to the nation.

Together with Build UK, CECA has already asked the Government to identify 'safety critical work on the infrastructure network that is essential and must be continued'.

It also is seeking confirmation of 'arrangements and prompt payment for this work'.

No official advice appears to have been released yet; however CECA is working to provide guidance to the Government, which has an established and significant workstream on critical infrastructure.

'Government does consider how it will maintain infrastructure in the case of extraordinary events, and a global pandemic will be on that risk register,' Mr Reisner said.

The amount of financial support the infrastructure sector might need is currently hard to estimate but would almost certainly run into billions.

Mr Reisner said: 'We are currently doing work on what the financial support will be. The reality is the ask is so huge it's difficult to know.'

He suggested that the kind of actions taken by Frech president Emmanuel Macron would probably be necessary.

President Macron impressed last night in his live address, where he described the situation as a 'war' and promised a £300bn cash injection to the French economy and the suspension of payments on bills such as utilities.  He also vowed that no business would go bankrupt.

The Government said it is closely monitoring developments in relation to potential economic impacts on the UK economy and individual businesses and supply chain and we are keen that businesses feedback any specific concerns via their business relationship managers.

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