The government’s school building plan – are we on track to hit targets?

 

 

By Catriona Lingwood, Chief Executive of Constructing Excellence in the North East

As the schools go back after the Summer and the traffic on a morning gets much busier, I’ve been thinking of the government’s plans for school buildings and whether we’re on track to hit the targets set.

Think back to 2015 when the government set aside £23bn to pay for school building and refurbishment programmes up to 2021. They were originally designed to fix the £6.7bn problem of school disrepair and tackle the challenge of creating hundreds of thousands of new pupil places to meet forecast demand. However, we’re now at the half way point and many fear that the pace is slowing and we’re not on plan to hit the target.

The government’s response to claims that they’re not on track was that they’ve already created an additional 825,000 school places and are on target to deliver another million in the next two years. The government had also set the target of 500 free schools in its 2017 manifesto and we’re still waiting on the education secretary, Damian Hinds, to speak about Wave 13 publicly. The old saying goes ‘no news is good news’, but that doesn’t seem to apply here. Silence leads to speculation, which is never a good thing, especially when there is evidence that work is coming forward slower than expected. For example, last year’s government construction and infrastructure pipeline predicted approximately £5bn would be spent in 2017/18 on school’s capital, £1bn more than ultimately was spent therefore supporting the view that spending did not come forward as hoped.

Then there’s the Priority School Building Programme (PSBP) covering 537 schools, which should be well into the second phase of delivering 277 schools by 2021. A departmental source said the drop in capital spend last year was due to the winding-down of the first phase of the PSBP, which has now built 237 of the promised 260 schools.  In the PSBP, the industry was doing hundreds of schools a year sometimes, but PSBP2 is much more of a slow burn. At this stage that should equate to about 80 projects a year, but Building Magazine have announced that the figures they have seen are well below that. If phase two is proving slow, what does that mean for plans post 2021? Will there be a phase three?

There are lots of questions left unanswered and given the government’s silence on many things, I suspect many people will be expecting answers in the chancellor’s 2019 Spring Statement. The industry is already nervous pre-Brexit, so I think we deserve some indication from the government on the way things are going.

For more information on Constructing Excellence in the North East, please contact chief executive, Catriona Lingwood, on 0191 500 7880 or email catriona@cene.org.uk.

13/09/18 Mental Health in the Industry

 

By Catriona Lingwood, Chief Executive of Constructing Excellence in the North East

Health and Safety has always been one of the main focuses in the industry, but there’s often debates over which is more important. There are many physical risks that come with working in the industry, but lately there’s been such an emphasis on mental health and how important it is to speak out that everyone has finally realised just how important it is.

This week, the Duke of Cambridge announced plans to launch an online initiative to support mental health in the workplace, offering employees training, information and resources to promote positive mental wellbeing. Created alongside mental health charity Mind, the Mental Health at Work project will act as a web portal that will help managers to support staff who may be struggling. It comes after a study by Mind revealed that 48% of British workers have experienced a mental health problem in their current job. The survey of 44,000 employees also found that only half of those who had experienced poor mental health at work had spoken to their employer about it – suggesting that sadly, 25% of UK workers are struggling in silence.

Here, at Constructing Excellence, we do lots to help improve the health, safety and wellbeing of workers in the industry. Last year we raised money for The Lighthouse Club Construction Industry Charity at our Constructing Excellence North East Awards and raised over £4000. The charity is the only charity that provides financial and emotional support to the construction community and their families who have suffered an injury or long-term illness or simply need a helping hand. The charity also funds and manages a 24/7 Construction Industry Helpline which is the first point of contact for those who need free and confidential support services.

We work in an industry where we all need to work together to change the stigma relating to mental health, which is why the Mental Health at Work project and charities like the Lighthouse Club are so important. The charity receives no public funding and relies on the generosity of those within in the industry, which is why we’re more than happy to be supporting their charity golf day on September 20, next week. The annual North East Lighthouse Construction Charity golf event is attended by regional and national contractors based in the North East. Without events like this and continued regional and national support, the charity would be unable to offer help and assistance to those that need it, at a time when it might be needed most.

You don’t have to be suicidal to call Samaritans, they’re simply there to help. Anyone can call for free any time from any phone on 116 123 and the number will not appear on your phone bill. Alternatively, call the Construction Industry Helpline on 0345 605 1956 or visit the newly formed buildingmentalhealth.net, both of which are fantastic outlets to support the industry we work in.

 

For more information on Constructing Excellence in the North East, please contact chief executive, Catriona Lingwood, on 0191 500 7880 or email catriona@cene.org.uk.

6/9/18 Will construction be human-free in the next 10 years?

 

By Catriona Lingwood, Chief Executive of Constructing Excellence in the North East

For a long time, construction was one of the least automated industries around, but we’re slowly but surely catching up. Digital solutions are being used in all areas of the industry. We’re moving away from paper trails and manual building and towards online solutions, new technology and robots that can do the job for us.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is an area of computer science that emphasizes the creation of intelligent machines that work and react like humans. AI can be used for; speech recognition, learning, planning and problem solving. The use of AI has increased massively over the last few years and has been implemented into the construction sector to bring about advancements in both productivity and health and safety.

The use of technology can improve the level of health and safety within the industry, a priority for many years, which is why I think the use of technology has finally been accepted by once hesitant employers. For example, AI technology and scanning software can track the body movement of bricklayers to analyse their form in order to reduce the amount of injuries on-site. AI also lends itself to face recognition to ensure complete safety and to authorise qualified professionals.

While AI and technology bring quicker, safer and cheaper methods to the industry, there’s also the fear that its ability to replicate human work can lead to dramatic job losses and impact the current workforce. Contradictory to that, there’s also the argument that AI and technology is helping productivity by completing tasks that are proving difficult due to the shortfall in human workers.

With the amount of AI in the industry, many have predicted a decline in human workforce and think we’ll be looking at a human-free construction force post 2025. We’re still struggling with a skills shortage, with research suggesting we need to recruit over 400,000 workers each year until 2021 to keep up with demand, that’s a lot of work, even for a robot, so an almost human-free workforce by 2025 seems near enough impossible to me. The ultimate goal is to make construction more productive, cost effective and safer. There’s no intention to completely remove the need for humans. I agree, we’re moving at a good pace when it comes to technology but personally I don’t think it will move that fast. For now, the industry as we know it still needs workers and there’s plenty of room for both AI and humans.

On 3 October, we’re delighted to be hosting the 2018 North East Construction Summit – Driving the Need for Change. The summit will focus on increasing productivity and addressing contributing factors including; leadership, innovation, industry culture, supply chains and best practice. There will be speakers from a number of organisations in the industry, including Ben Lever, Future Skills and Innovation Lead at the Construction Industry Training Board who will be further discussing the skills needs in digital-led construction.

For more information on the North East Construction Summit, please contact Leanne Conaway, on 0191 500 7880 or email leanne@cene.org.uk.