9th June 2020
COVID-19: The road to recovery?

The coronavirus crisis has taken a heavy toll on the vast majority of businesses across the UK – but some industries have been harder hit than others. The construction industry, which had already taken its fair share of hard knocks before the onset of the pandemic, but which had been set to greatly benefit from major new government funding, has suffered from the widespread closure of sites and the wider economic impact of the nationwide lockdown.

Now, we are seeing workers return to construction sites that have been rigorously adapted to facilitate the implementation of strict social distancing and safety measures, and the industry is cautiously getting to its feet and dusting itself off. But it is likely that full recovery will take much longer. As such, the Construction Leadership Council (CLC) has set out a three-step ‘Roadmap to Recovery’ plan to “reinvent” the industry.

Restart, reset, reinvent

Divided into three distinct phases, the plan focuses on supporting the construction industry through the remainder of the crisis, stimulating demand and increasing workloads, and embracing innovation and stronger partnerships between various industry stakeholders.

To restart the industry, the plan sets out how work on all construction sites can be recommenced safely while following social distancing and hygiene requirements. It also focuses on the importance of contractual fairness and prompt payment to minimise further disruption to works as a result of contractual disputes.

In the reset phase, the emphasis changes to stimulating demand and increasing workload across the industry to drive longer-term recovery. Innovation and new approaches will be required to counteract the downturn in productivity caused by the requirement to implement strict government safety guidelines.

While the reset phase concentrates on getting the industry back up to pre-lockdown productivity, reinvention aims to make the industry better, more innovative and more sustainable than it ever was before. Investment in modern methods of construction (MMC) and digitisation will deliver more sustainable, higher quality builds, while the adoption of new procurement models will result in better value and whole-of-life performance. The CLC also calls for tighter relationships between the various industry stakeholders to create a stronger, more collaborative environment going forwards.

How it all be achieved?

Among the measures proposed to achieve the aims set out above, the CLC has asked the government to further push back new VAT measures, originally due to be implemented in October 2019, to October 2021. The new regulations are intended to combat VAT fraud in supply chains by placing responsibility for paying the tax in the hands of customers, not suppliers.  

To facilitate the reset phase of the plan, the organisation has proposed increased flexibility on apprenticeship levy payments to improve cashflow during and after the pandemic.

Meanwhile, the CLC has called on public sector bodies to publish revised pipelines for infrastructure project plans and the government to accelerate business cases and speed up procurement and construction of viable projects to provide a welcome boost for the industry.

It also urges firms to embrace modern construction techniques, such as offsite manufacturing and digital design tools, to deliver higher quality and value. To increase sustainability, it asks the industry to adhere to the government’s net zero carbon 2030-2050 targets when planning new infrastructure and housing developments.

The inevitable rise of technology

Back in January, we published a blog exploring whether 2020 would be the year that the construction industry finally embraced digitisation. While the industry has suffered some harsh blows in the past few months, the CLC’s plan highlights that long-term recovery and growth can only come from the widespread acceptance of modernisation and technology throughout the industry.

Here at Focus, we expect digitisation, sustainability and collaboration to become watchwords for 2020 and beyond.