Date: 07/05/2020
Author: Chris Fletcher
Company: GMCC

As we end the 7th week of Lockdown, expectations are increasing over the possibility of changes to the current restrictions and guidance. Many businesses will be starting to look at what this means for them.

It’s worth pointing out here that contrary to media and popular opinion not all businesses have closed down. Most of the hospitality and leisure sector have but many more businesses have remained open of a sort. Whilst their places of work have been closed work has been transferred to home where possible. This enforced innovation has seen the sudden acceptance of video conferencing as a new way of working.

There are, though, many businesses where home working has not been an option. The property and construction sector is one such example.

Whilst elements of the sector have been able to work at home, the sharp-end – those on site have had to continue where possible.

This has not been without problems – initially around social distancing requirements impacting on the ability to operate fully, but there have also been problems around the ability to travel and commute as well as supply chain issues around material shortages and disruptions to supply.

Away from the sites the situation remains delicately poised. Whilst there is sufficient work on current projects and a short term pipeline of new work, beyond that what many saw as a fertile oasis of new work a few months ago is in danger of turning into a dust bowl.

Quite simply people are hesitating on committing to new work. And not just in the Uk – this is a global pandemic and the issues are also causing problems around the world. This is building up a potential major future employment and insolvency problem that may not hit initially in the immediate post-lockdown period but could start 3 or 4 months down the line. We have seen in previous economic crises this sector is a bellwether – first in, first out and the short term prognosis is not looking great.

Whether this happens is a point of debate but what we can’t do is sit back and assume it won’t.

There has to be continued support from government – both in financial terms and also to quickly mobilise against wholescale job losses should the worse happen. The furlough scheme can’t just end on 30th June it should carry on – it has to evolve into what will be required at that date to preserve jobs and businesses. We should be looking around the world for best practice in those countries coming out of covid-19 lockdowns. Where are the plans to temperature test employees going on site a vital step to prevent any secondary waves of infection?

This will have to be public sector led initially as that’s where any cash will be and also where the shovel ready projects are. This will see big central government intervention maybe on a scale never seen before to act as a support mechanism until the private sector engine gets back running again.

Even in a sector that has carried on probably better than most during lockdown, the next few weeks and months are critical.

At the Chamber, our Property & Construction Group has continued to meet to look at these issues, discuss solutions and plan ahead as best they can.

We will continue with this throughout whatever lies ahead, and we will increase our engagement with members and others across the GM business community and beyond.

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