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.

30/08/2018 – The Value of Apprenticeships

At Constructing Excellence in the North East, we love nothing more than celebrating young people and ensuring opportunities for them continue to grow in the construction industry.

Apprenticeships give young people hands-on experience and the opportunity to gain qualifications whilst learning skills and gaining industry knowledge. They are a great combination of on- and off-site learning and experience, guided by tutors or mentors. I love seeing the entries fly in each year for the Apprentice of the Year category in our Generation for Change (G4C) Awards. Each year we get more than the last, proving that apprenticeships are on the rise with more companies finally realising the benefits of employing apprentices.

Construction, Engineering and Manufacturing, Planning and the Built Environment are within the top five sectors for apprenticeship starts. In the 2016/17, our industry had 21,000 new starts and the Engineering and Manufacturing sector had 74,000. Apprenticeships are a way of futureproofing the UK workforce, particularly in our sector where there is a skills shortage, so it is pleasing to see that real progress is being made.

A career in construction can be seriously rewarding to both the employee and the employer. According to the latest research by the Federation of Master Builders (FMB), apprentices in the industry will go on to earn thousands of pounds more than many of their university-educated equivalents. Also, because the industry is in the midst of a skills shortage and the government has such an ambitious house building target, we need to commit to recruiting and training the right people to be anywhere near reaching the targets set. Thankfully, success for apprenticeships is anticipated to keep growing as the new apprenticeship levy that was introduced last year brings with it a new way of funding apprenticeship programmes. Whilst some employers have snubbed it as just being ‘another tax’, both large and small employers can benefit from the fund. It is designed to cover apprentice training fees and is open to all apprenticeship courses, including higher level courses meaning that 90% of apprenticeship training costs are funded by the government.

National Apprenticeship Week, which takes place in March and the Apprenticeship Levy have raised awareness of apprenticeships across the UK. Despite the progress we’ve been making and the huge skills shortage, many employers are still only scratching the surface of what they could be doing to use apprenticeships to attract new people to join the industry. To ensure everyone knows what apprenticeships are, the benefits of employing apprenticeships and the support that is available, Constructing Excellence in the North East are hosting a breakfast seminar on 10 October to provide insight into everything you need to know. If you still have reservations, come along and find out exactly how apprenticeships can help you and your organisation.

28/08/2018 – Access to Funding & Claiming What is Yours

 

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

Civil engineering and construction companies could be missing out on valuable tax relief due to their lack of knowledge around capital expenditure and HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) legislation. It’s time employers start educating themselves and start claiming back what’s rightfully theirs.

Since the government launched its Research and Development (R&D) tax credit scheme back in 2000, around £16.5bn has been claimed in total. In 2015-16 £2.9bn was paid out, with only £45million of that going to construction. That’s not to say the money isn’t owed to us, it’s just that we’re the industry making the least claims. In the same year, there were a total of 26,255 claims, with only 705 coming from our industry.

Research suggests that the lack of construction claims can be blamed on the confusion of the definition and perception of R&D among industry workers. Most people think of R&D and think of scientists in labs and white coats, but that’s not the case at all. HMRC defines R&D as ‘a project that creates new processes, products or services, or makes improvements to existing ones and overcomes technological or systems uncertainty’, I don’t know about you but I’d say that pretty much covers a lot of what we do on a daily basis; we’re always looking for easier, safer and more environmentally friendly ways of working.

Contractors working under the Construction Industry Scheme (CIS) can also claim capital allowances on plant and machinery, tools and business vehicles such as lorries or vans, as such large purchases can have a significant impact on a contractor’s finances. Many contractors are unaware of the full range of items that can be considered under capital allowances; lifts or air-conditioning units, CCTV systems, kitchens and bathrooms all fall into this category. There seems to be a theme here; the issue definitely lies with lack of education and not knowing what can and can’t be claimed back.

Constructing Excellence in the North East, along with T4C, are holding a breakfast seminar looking at ways of claiming back work costs and getting access to your share of the billions of unclaimed tax relief. The presentation will show how day to day jobs qualify for cashback and how the industry, although it might be one of the lowest claiming sectors, could potentially have the highest returns. Don’t assume your projects won’t qualify…a ground construction company received £30,643 and a building contractor has received £34,042 in cashback!

The industry is constantly been told to be more innovative and we’re trying our best with the limited money that we have and I’m very impressed with the work we’ve been doing but imagine what we could do with all that extra money, we can invest in offsite construction, robots and IT programmes. The ideas are there, and so is there money if we go out and get it. It’s a simple case of if you don’t ask, you won’t get. What have you got to lose?

For more information or to register your place at the event, please contact Leanne at leanne@cene.org.uk or call 0191 500 7880.

16/08/2018 – Growing support for Construction Alliance North East’s (CAN) Construction Charter

 

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

Construction Alliance North East (CAN), the organisation established to represent over 500 regional SMEs engaged in construction and civil engineering, continues to receive widespread backing for its construction charter from industry bodies as well as over half the region’s MPs.

The Construction Industry Council (CIC) North East is the latest to show its support and now sits beside those of the North East of England Chamber of Commerce, Sunderland City Council and Northumberland County Council – organisations that have already supported it. The Charter seeks to change the way public sector procurement personnel work with regional SMEs in the industry. The adoption of more intelligent procurement methods, the Charter argues, would give regional SMEs a fairer chance to bid for public sector work, building resilience into the North East construction industry.

While Constructing Excellence in the North East represents the interests of all regional construction-related companies, it is a platform for industry improvement and we are all for collaboration, so I am not only encouraged by the kind of improvements the charter calls for but delighted to see that over half the region’s MPs have also signed up to it. The support of CIC North East is another step in the right direction, spreading the net a little further throughout the sector to include professional bodies, research organisations and specialist business associations within the construction industry.

CIC North East has already signed up to a 30-day payment charter which is also an aim of CAN’s – to encourage fairer payment terms within the industry. Adopting a more intelligent approach to procurement is common sense and fortunately, it is now well recognised that the cheapest price is not always the best. Even the Government’s Public Accounts Committee produced a report recently relating to strategic suppliers – those with the largest value of contracts – which is highly critical of the procurement process at present.

It is great news for region’s like ours that two of the report’s recommendations relate to reducing barriers to the bidding process for SMEs and ensuring that SMEs get paid on time. Construction is a vital part of the regional economy and the sustainability of the sector is crucial because if it is not given priority, the delivery of new homes, workspace and infrastructure will not be realised, which will significantly disadvantage the North East.

Through a common-sense approach, CAN continues to address some of the ills in the construction sector and I am pleased to see that it is starting to make headway as it lobbies for change.

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.

Growing support for Construction Alliance North East’s (CAN) construction charter

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

Construction Alliance North East (CAN), the organisation established to represent over 500 regional SMEs engaged in construction and civil engineering, continues to receive widespread backing for its construction charter from industry bodies as well as over half the region’s MPs.

The Construction Industry Council (CIC) North East is the latest to show its support and now sits beside those of the North East of England Chamber of Commerce, Sunderland City Council and Northumberland County Council – organisations that have already supported it. The Charter seeks to change the way public sector procurement personnel work with regional SMEs in the industry. The adoption of more intelligent procurement methods, the Charter argues, would give regional SMEs a fairer chance to bid for public sector work, building resilience into the North East construction industry.

While Constructing Excellence in the North East represents the interests of all regional construction-related companies, it is a platform for industry improvement and we are all for collaboration, so I am not only encouraged by the kind of improvements the charter calls for but delighted to see that over half the region’s MPs have also signed up to it. The support of CIC North East is another step in the right direction, spreading the net a little further throughout the sector to include professional bodies, research organisations and specialist business associations within the construction industry.

CIC North East has already signed up to a 30-day payment charter which is also an aim of CAN’s – to encourage fairer payment terms within the industry. Adopting a more intelligent approach to procurement is common sense and fortunately, it is now well recognised that the cheapest price is not always the best. Even the Government’s Public Accounts Committee produced a report recently relating to strategic suppliers – those with the largest value of contracts – which is highly critical of the procurement process at present.

It is great news for region’s like ours that two of the report’s recommendations relate to reducing barriers to the bidding process for SMEs and ensuring that SMEs get paid on time. Construction is a vital part of the regional economy and the sustainability of the sector is crucial because if it is not given priority, the delivery of new homes, workspace and infrastructure will not be realised, which will significantly disadvantage the North East.

Through a common-sense approach, CAN continues to address some of the ills in the construction sector and I am pleased to see that it is starting to make headway as it lobbies for change.

The Importance of Managing Workplace Pressures

 

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

Like many industries, construction has its pressures. Our industry has and always will be a stressful industry, with workload, client demands and budget concerns being a daily worry, but as an industry, we need to take the issues of workplace stress and mental health very seriously. That’s not to say we aren’t, health and safety has always been one of the main focuses in the industry, but there’s often debates over which is more important. Employees working in the industry need to know that their mental health is just as important to us as their physical well-being.

Demands from employers and clients, low margins and a culture of confrontation can create a perfect storm for mental health issues to develop. The pressures and demands faced at work can create huge stress and anxiety – which can be pushed to the edge if not managed in the correct way.  According to statistics from safety barrier manufacturer, A-SAFE, 48% of workers are kept awake as a result of workplace stress with some losing more than 10 hours of sleep a week.  Almost 70% in the sector suffer from Sunday night blues, with the data also showing that 16% of workers regularly lose sleep, with a further 32% experiencing occasional loss of sleep. Given how dangerous our industry can be, it worries me to think of those workers operating heavy machinery or making important decisions on minimal hours of sleep.

There are some companies and projects in the industry encouraging long hour days. I know it’s common for activity on sites to ramp up when the deadline is approaching but some sites operate 24 hours a day, with workers offered bonuses for working obscenely long hours. Over the last few months, two Construction News investigations have uncovered job adverts for two high-profile projects seeking workers for 15 and 16-hour-a-day roles. The odd shift here and there might not be a big deal, but if you’re doing it weekly without recovery time, it could be very detrimental to your health and wellbeing.

All the work we’ve been doing (and there’s been a lot) to look more into health and safety and mental health initiatives, will be pointless if we can’t understand the impact of working long shifts day after day. I understand pressure to finish a project has the potential to drive subcontractors to work these kind of hours and when the client is desperately seeking completion the pressure on the contractor is huge. What worries me, is that the industry has done nothing to assess the effects of long hours on productivity and safety. Obviously, productivity is very important, but for me there’s nothing more important than the health and safety of our workers.

The construction industry isn’t going anywhere, we’re always going to need houses building, but unless we take more care of ourselves both individually and as an industry, the industry will be a very different place in no time.

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.

02/08/2018 – Could Shipping Containers be the Answer to All Our Problems

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

Shipping container architecture, using steel shipping containers as structural elements, has grown in popularity due to their strength, availability and low cost. They have been used creatively and innovatively by architects to produce some very eye-catching results including fully modified homes, offices, toilets or simply used for storage.

Shipping container villages are popping up all over the country, with two of the newest based here in the North East. The Newcastle container hub, Stack, is due to open in the city centre in a few weeks. Stack aims to combine the best elements of food festivals and continental markets. It will provide a launchpad for up to 50 SMEs all of which will be run from shipping containers, creating and sustaining around 500 jobs over the four years it will be on site. On the Gateshead Quayside, another container village ‘HWKRMRKT’ opened earlier this summer hosting a collection of 15 independent street traders selling pizza, tacos, burgers, ice creams, cakes and more. The village has a very ‘cosmopolitan’ feel and has already proven to be extremely popular, bringing life to a once empty area. This is one of the reasons I love this industry, it has the ability to create something amazing, just a few shipping containers (and a lot of hard work from those involved) have generated such a feel-good atmosphere.

It’s not just businesses that are using shipping containers, they are also being used to tackle housing shortages, by turning them into homes. Last year, Cadwyn Housing Association in Cardiff was granted permission to create 14 homes from shipping containers. The development will include seven one-bedroom containers and seven two-bedroom containers. The homes will be used as temporary affordable housing, but they could be the answer to some of our housing problems.It is not just helping new businesses they are also being used to help those who have fallen on hard times to take the vital first step off living on the street.

Containers are ideal to be used as a building material, they are strong, can be stacked and are very easy to move. When discussing a project early on, it’s important to think about the sustainability and how eco-friendly it can be and using shipping containers that can be recycled plays a huge part in that. Once a container is modified, the steel is recycled and there’s less impact on the environment due to fewer first use materials being used during construction e.g. concrete, timber or bricks.

The Welsh Assembly has an Innovation housing programme specifically looking to tackle housing. Shipping containers being turned into homes is one of the solutions.

Towards the end of 2017 Cardiff Council received funding from the programme to build eight energy-efficient family homes in the grounds of Greenfarm Hostel in Ely .

And earlier this year Cadwyn Housing Association was given permission to create 14 homes in shipping containers on Bute Street in Cardiff.

The development will include seven one-bedroom containers and seven two-bedroom containers as well as a warden’s office.

The homes are planned as temporary affordable housing on a short-term basis.

It is not just helping new businesses they are also being used to help those who have fallen on hard times to take the vital first step off living on the street.

The Welsh Assembly has an Innovation housing programme specifically looking to tackle housing. Shipping containers being turned into homes is one of the solutions.

Towards the end of 2017 Cardiff Council received funding from the programme to build eight energy-efficient family homes in the grounds of Greenfarm Hostel in Ely .

And earlier this year Cadwyn Housing Association was given permission to create 14 homes in shipping containers on Bute Street in Cardiff.

The development will include seven one-bedroom containers and seven two-bedroom containers as well as a warden’s office.

The homes are planned as temporary affordable housing on a short-term basis.

Last year, the housing white paper, highlighted that not enough local authorities are planning for the homes needed and house building is simply too slow. Yes, the government is doing a lot to increase the number of new houses, but we need houses now and with the skills shortage, using shipping containers could be part of the solution. Who knows, these unconventional methods could take off and in a few years, traditional builds might all be a thing of the past.

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.

26/07/2018 – #BuildingEquality – Celebrating Inclusivity & Diversity

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

At the weekend around 20,000 people marched through Newcastle to celebrate inclusivity and diversity. Constructing Excellence in the North East joined the parade to demonstrate support for the construction industry’s LGBT+ workforce, under the banner of #BuildingEquality, the national LGBT+ Construction Working Group formed in 2015.

We extended the invite to anyone working in the industry, whether they identify as LGBT+ or as an ally, wanting to demonstrate support for LGBT colleagues. We were thrilled to have organisations such as Arup, Atkins, Balfour Beatty, Mott MacDonald and Space Group marching alongside us. LGBT workers exist across all industries and construction is no different. According to research released by Public Health England in 2017, around 2.5% of the UK population openly identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or other, meaning there could be at least 50,000 LGBT+ people working in the industry.

2018 marks a symbolic year for the LGBT+ community, it has been 30 years since Section 28 was introduced, banning local authorities from promoting homosexuality and 15 years since it was (thankfully) repealed across the UK. It’s also the 40th anniversary of the Rainbow Flag and I think marching in support of the LGBT+ community alongside people of all ages, genders, ethnicity and values was the perfect way to celebrate that.

Earlier in the month, industry representatives from over 23 construction companies also marched in London Pride alongside a rainbow JCB, which I think is brilliant and shows exactly how the industry has progressed over the years. The industry is no longer the ‘stereotypical’ dirty, dangerous construction site full of white, heterosexual, ‘tough’ men. We’ve come on leaps and bounds with understanding the positive benefits of a diverse workforce and support multiple initiatives and schemes to support further improvement.

Construction News conducted a survey of 1,045 people in the construction industry and found that over half (56%) of LGBT+ respondents still aren’t comfortable being open about their sexuality or gender, and a third (28%) have had an offensive or inappropriate comment made about their gender or sexuality in the workplace over the past year. So, although we have come a long way, there is still much work to be done to ensure the industry is a truly diverse and inclusive workplace for its LGBT+ employees, which is why the work of #BuildingEquality and its members is so important.

In 2010 the Equality Act became law in the UK, making it illegal to discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the workplace. To be anywhere near reaching the targets set by Construction 2025, we need to be encouraging the entire talent pool and not excluding potential candidates, for any reason. We need diversity in gender, age, ethnicity, values, experience and behaviours. Given the support the industry has shown towards LGTB+ workers, both during Pride and every other day, there is an incredibly positive attitude across the industry towards getting exactly what we need – inclusive workplaces supporting a diverse workforce.

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.