Impact of COVID19 and UK construction

18. February 2021 Written by David Lawrence
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It is no surprise that probably every company has been impacted by covid19 in someway. I speak to several companies every day and the feedback has been wide-ranging, from companies having to furlough the majority of their workforce, companies struggling financially, all the way up to a handful of companies actually thriving.

In the beginning, we didn't really know what to expect, how long it would last, or what the long term damage would be, but over the last few months, the picture has started to become clearer. As the industry (and the country) starts to return to normal, the government has started to lay out plans to rescue businesses and stabilise the country. There have been incentives to support the hospitality sector, which has probably been hit harder than others, VAT reductions, 50% of restaurant meals, and relaxed rules around face coverings.

For the construction industry, Prime Minister Boris Johnson on the 30th of June 2020, via his 'Build Build Build' speech has pledged;

  • A £12bn affordable homes programme that will support up to 180,000 new affordable homes for ownership and rent over the next 8 years.
  • Included in the affordable homes programme will be a 1,500 unit pilot of 'First Homes': houses that will be sold to first time buyers at a 30% discount which will remain in perpetuity, keeping them affordable for generations of families to own.
  • Funds from the £400m Brownfield Land Fund have today been allocated to the West Midlands, Greater Manchester, West Yorkshire, Liverpool City Region, Sheffield City Region, and North of Tyne and Tees Valley to support around 24,000 homes.
  • The Home Building Fund to help smaller developers access to finance for new housing developments will receive an additional £450m boost. This is expected to support the delivery of around 7,200 new homes.

Also announced on the same day, the government will launch a planning Policy Paper in July setting out their plan for comprehensive reform of England's seven-decade-old planning system, to introduce a new approach that works better for our modern economy and society.

Of course, all of this will require some coordination and I am not going to get into a debate on whether it will be executed perfectly. But at least the government has a plan, and I believe it has a huge amount of potential.

Restarting

So as the country and the construction industry starts to ramp up production, several companies are starting to see results. Independent suppliers have seen a huge demand, owing to the fact that they are generally more agile than their bigger competitors, who have struggled to implement social distancing rules and get the workforce back into work quickly. Many suppliers have quickly adopted a click and collect service in order to offer better service to customers.

Construction Enquirer has reported that hire company VP has seen revenues rebound from 55% in April to 80% in June when compared to last year, an indicator that companies are beginning torestart operations. Construction News reports that Skanska's first-half year profit is up despite Coronavirus. One of the companies that I spoke to, is thriving during the lockdown. They do cinema and theatre refits and refurbs, traditionally they would work on a single screen at a time and would often be working unsociable hours - recently have been able to work on entire sites and essentially fast track the projects.

Opportunities

A lot of companies have taken the initiative during the lockdown to restructure their business andlook at improvements that can be made. SHEQ advisors are now being tasked at looking how best to work with the current restrictions in place, having to re-think how work is planned, resourced and carried out in the safest way possible. Companies are also using the time to upskill the workforce, through courses and training to improve the skillsets available.


As clients are becoming more and more aware of their responsibilities, they are looking at their relationships and what steps their supply chain has taken in order to mitigate risks. Being able to demonstrate to your clients that you have rigorous procedures in place will be key to winning more work, more so than before.

Seamless communication

One area that I totally understand is the communication required to manage a project effectively. I started Fonn back in 2017 when working on my own project and having to refit the bathroom 3 times over issues with poor communication. I am sure we can all relate to a time when someone did something wrong because of poor information flow or not being on the same page as everyone else.

Fonn is a cloud-based project management system designed for construction companies of all sizes and disciplines, with a focus on the house building market. I pulled together a team of experts and built the platform from the ground up with client support and adoption very early into the life of the business. This enabled us to deliver a client-led product, that actually works. Fonn is now an award-winning, leading software provider in Norway.

We provide a variety of tools to manage the project lifecycle, documents, drawings, forms, snags, RFIs to name but a few. But the core value is in the collaboration aspect of the system, each of these features is powerful in their own right, but when they are combined and all under one roof, they provide a total project management solution. And because we offer a 'true' collaboration system, you can be confident that there are no restrictions. Other software, such as Microsoft Office or AutoDesk, or our competitors often charge per user or seat, making companies reluctant to add users unless they are vital. For me, this goes against being a true collaboration tool. We offer a simple pricing plan, with unlimited users, projects, and storage. We encourage you to invite your clients, sub-contractors, suppliers and team to the Fonn platform to get the full benefit of the software.

As I previously mentioned, putting procedures and systems in place demonstrates that you are taking the project seriously, ultimately giving everyone involved in the build visibility over the project in realtime, something that hasn't really existed before. In fact, many companies suffer from a disconnect between head office and the project site, sometimes an 'us and them' mentality within their company. Now is the time more than ever to change this attitude, and make the industry better for it.

Fonn is currently providing a no-obligation free trial of the software for UK companies to help improve communication, remote working and information flow, and this period is extended for Qandor members. We want to see everyone get an opportunity to benefit from technology and ultimately improve their business and the value they provide to their clients and end-users.

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