11th November Journal Column

By Victoria S Beattie, Director of Construction, Gateshead Council

One of my least favourite topics, the gender pay gap, has reared its head in the news once again this week, but for once, it’s not all doom and gloom.

Statistics from the Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings, published by the Office of National Statistics (ONS), show that the pay gap between men and women in construction is now 1.8 per cent below the national average – hooray!

The industry has long been known as a ‘man’s industry’ and it’s been great to see it dramatically change its stance on women in recent years. We’re certainly making more improvements than other industries, but a 16.3 per cent gap, for me, is still 16.3 per cent too much
I’ve personally found that attitudes towards women in construction have changed massively and are more positive than ever before. In the 20 years that I’ve worked in construction a lot has changed, things might not be perfect, but they are certainly better than they used to be.

From next April, the Government will start action to tackle the gender pay gap by requiring all employers with more than 250 employees to publish their gender pay and gender bonus gaps. This will produce more accurate figures, so this time next year we’ll have a much clearer picture of where we’re at, and how we can start to reduce that pay gap even further.

We need to keep working to ensure the industry is seen as an attractive career choice for young girls. Research carried out by YouGov, on behalf of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), asked young women aged between 13 and 22 about their perceptions of gender equality in the workplace. The results showed that 29 per cent thought property and construction sectors were only for men, voting them the least female-friendly industry. What’s even more shocking is that 41 per cent of respondents believed being a woman would hold them back in any workplace – something I couldn’t disagree more with; nobody should be held back just because of their gender.

We need to show the world that women can be just as successful as men, particularly when it comes to inspiring the next generation of young women that there is a world of possibilities ahead of them. Of those that took part in the YouGov survey, 43 per cent said having a female Prime Minister or President would help gender diversity at work. We’re still in the early stages of having a female Prime Minister again but Theresa May is proof to young women that they really can achieve anything. Look at Angela Merkel, she was Germany’s first woman Chancellor and is the longest-serving current head of government in the European Union. Earlier this year, Merkel was named the most powerful woman in the world by Forbes for the tenth time – if that doesn’t show young women that gender doesn’t hold you back then I don’t know what does!

4th November Journal Column

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

Since April, when the Level 2 mandate came into play, the industry has seen far more engagement towards Building Information Modelling (BIM). People are finally accepting BIM and seeing the potential benefits that the digital world can bring to construction. For a long time, construction was one of the least automated industries around, but thanks to the likes of BIM and virtual and augmented reality, we’re slowly but surely catching up.
The building site of the future is going to look very different to what we are all used to seeing today. Virtual reality (VR) is all about the creation of a virtual world that users can interact with. Building a construction project in a virtual environment means you can experience how the final building will function and appear, using technology to make changes to locations of partitions or walls, meaning factors can be tested without the time and cost of building the structure, reducing the number of problems that may occur in the process.

We’ve been using computerised 3D models of buildings for a while now, but now London based engineers, Elliott Wood are trialling a 360-degree visualisation cylinder igloo in its office. Contractors can feel what it’s like to be right in the middle of a site by wearing VR headsets, allowing them to see a full 360-degree view. Anyone wearing the same headset will also be able to see the same thing, allowing changes to be made straight away to designs anywhere around the world – something we would have never predicted only a couple of years ago.

Augmented reality (AR) on the other hand is the blending of virtual reality and real-life, as developers can create images within applications and users can interact with virtual contents in the real world. By overlaying virtual data and images on to a current physical space, potential flaws that may arise can be spotted early and workers can take measures to avoid them.
Using AR to showcase a building to potential investors in its proposed real-world location will help them understand how it will connect with its surroundings. It makes it easier for planners to work with contractors and can also reassure clients, making it easier for everyone to work together and ensure the project runs smoothly.

VR and AR are expected to have a major impact on the building sector over the next few years, with investments already being made for developing new technology. I know some people are apprehensive of change, we’re creatures of habit and for those that have worked in the industry for a long-time using new technology is a scary, but the likes of VR and AR are only going to help the industry in many ways – shorter project delivery times, safer construction sites and overall improved quality of projects? Yes, please!

21st October Journal Column

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

It’s been 12 months since the Modern Slavery Act 2015 came into effect. The Act states an offence is committed if someone holds another person in slavery or servitude or requires them to perform forced or compulsory labour. It applies to every organisation, regardless of size.
The legislation increased the maximum jail term for people traffickers from 14 years to life, and gave courts in England and Wales powers to impose orders to restrict the activities of suspected traffickers.

Businesses, especially those in our industry, need to be aware of what the Modern Slavery Act entails and ensure they comply with it. For those that don’t, they have more to worry about than just criminal prosecution and fines, (which alone are bad enough) – their own, and their clients’, reputation and brand is also massively at risk.

Over the years the government has refocused its attention on tackling modern slavery. Theresa May has shown her commitment to tackling the issue and pledged over £33 million to create a five-year International Modern Slavery Fund to help high-risk countries. The government may also be tempted to ‘name and shame’ key businesses which drag their heels. The Prime Minister has made it very clear she isn’t afraid of name-checking companies that aren’t doing as they should, she proved this by calling out major infrastructure projects and companies in her speech at the Conservative Party Conference last week, so it’s vital that businesses know what is expected of them.

The Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) released a toolkit back in July for construction companies that looks at the causes of modern slavery and areas of good practice. It also released a series of reports on the state of labour exploitation in supply chains and collaborated with the multi-stakeholder initiative Stronger Together to develop advice and guidance for its membership. It’s good to see companies and organisations actually taking action against slavery, and helping organisations move further away from it. With regards to awareness, we’re in a much better position than we were last year.

The first year of the Act has been more of an awareness campaign, and that’s definitely what was needed. In a recent survey by the Supply Chain School that surveyed 14,000 construction industry members, it was found that 75 per cent of respondents said they knew what the Act covered and how it affected their organisation. But more than half (51 per cent) of those surveyed stated they either did not know, or were unsure what actual steps to take.

House builder Barratt Developments has taken a step in the right direction, announcing on Anti-Slavery Day earlier this week that it has completely reviewed its supply chain and has set up a dedicated whistle-blower hotline to combat modern slavery. Now that everyone is aware of what is required of them, there’s no more time for excuses and there is now an urgent need for more companies to step up and turn their awareness into actions.

14th October Journal Column

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

The Conservative Party Conference drew to a close last week and while Theresa May said very little about policy in her final speech of the event, she did make her vision for the country very clear. In her own words ‘change is going to come’.

She made some significant comments about state intervention, which was interesting to hear, given that the common view across our industry over the past few months has been that the only way we will hit our 2025 homes target is if we have support from the state – (and rumours on the industry grapevine since the speech have suggested we’ll get exactly that).

Housing minister, Gavin Barwell has said he sees his job as ‘intervening’. Having such support from the state would mean we get more money and more public land to help SMEs enter the market, which is exactly what I was crying out for just last week.

The Prime Minister made it very clear she isn’t afraid of making the tough decisions needed to get Britain building, name-checking many major infrastructure projects along the way. I feel like this has been a long time coming, we’ve long needed someone with this attitude who isn’t afraid to make difficult decisions to get the industry to where it needs to be.

The PM disowned George Osborne’s 2020 budget surplus target, promising to “invest in the things that matter, the things with a long-term return” – most of all housing. It’s time to tackle the problems that have been holding the country and the industry back, time to tackle the shortage of affordable homes and invest in our infrastructure. She is more than happy to go forward with plans for High Speed 2, with further plans to expand Britain’s airport capacity.

High housing costs and the growing gap between those on the property ladder and those who are not are the main reasons for falling social mobility, falling savings and low productivity. May has vowed to do everything she can to financially help people buy their own home and has admitted that Help to Buy and Right to Buy are the right things to help us achieve that. But before we can help people buy a home we must first address the issue of their simply not being enough homes being built. It means encouraging and not being afraid of new technologies that will help us to build houses quicker.

In the PM’s own words ‘you need to put the hours in and the effort too, if you do, great things can happen. Great changes can occur.’ – I couldn’t agree more, time and effort have the power to give Britain and the industry all of the things we need to thrive.
Now these plans all sound very promising, but we’ll have to until the Autumn Statement in November to see if there are plans to follow through with this ideas … here’s hoping!

7th October Journal Column

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

New research has found that SME housebuilders have limited areas on which they can build. The research from the Federation of Master Builders (FMB) shows that two-thirds of SMEs have claimed a lack of available land is the biggest barrier to building new homes. And it’s not the first time- this is the second year in a row the FMB’s annual House Builders’ Survey has shown a lack of available and viable land as being the biggest barrier for SMEs.

The problem no longer lies with a skills shortage, we have the workers, they want to work, but the biggest challenge lies solely in the planning process. If the building of new homes is on the decline, there will eventually be no sites for SME builders to work on.
At the minute the focus seems to be all on large sites, which is pushing out the smaller developers. The lack of opportunities for smaller developments is one of the reasons the number of homes by SMEs has fell from two thirds to less than a quarter in the last few decades.
95 per cent of SME housebuilders have reported that the information demands they are faced with during the planning process are even worse, or just as bad, as ever before.

Brian Berry, chief executive of the FMB said that SME housebuilders should be seen as a key component of the government’s housing strategy, which means sites should be granted to them – and I couldn’t agree more!

Another simple solution to this problem is ensuring that planning departments have the capacity to engage more closely with SME house builders, ensuring planning applications are processed through the system as quickly and efficiently as they can be. Currently, the planning system treat a 300-home application in almost the same way it treats a three-home application- yet, there’s no reason for it to take the same amount of time for the two applications to be processed.

The government also need to stop bigger house builders from holding on to land without developing it in a bid to get small builders to enter the market to solve the housing crisis. It’s a waste of perfectly good land that small builders could be taking full advantage of.
You’d think the government would be doing all it can to encourage the build of new homes considering it failed to hit its target for new homes last year. Figures show that the number of new homes built between 2014 – 2015 did increase but the total is still less than half the 275,000 annual government target. In order to meet the target, they need all the help they can get, and SME house builders could be the answer to all of their problems.

30th September Journal Column

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. Many projects focus too much on safety rather than health, with even less taking mental health into consideration.
There have been big improvements and preventions put in place to reduce the number of construction related injuries in recent years, but health issues continue to affect workers. With the amount of energy being put into managing physical risk; you have to question whether the industry is getting the health and safety balance right.

Whilst plenty is done to manage safety issues, serious health issues in the past have been ignored, not purposely, I just think there’s confusion over occupational and mental health, about how serious risks can be and how it could all be prevented.
The construction industry needs to pay more attention www.health-canada-pharmacy.com/valium.html to mental health. According to Samaritans, the mental health charity, suicide kills six times as many workers in the sector than those from falls or heights.

Mental health issues can also lead to physical health issues, with anxiety or depression leading to issues such as stomach ulcers and an increased risk of heart attacks. In an industry where workers have such heavy workloads, tight deadlines and high risk work environments, ensuring the emotional wellbeing of staff is so important. Too much stress can make employees less productive; and if it begins to impact their work it can put their own and others’ safety at risk.

Someone in the UK takes their own life every 90 minutes and there were 6,122 recorded deaths by suicide in the UK in 2014, 76 per cent of which were men. This compares with 1,775 people who died in traffic accidents. Suicide is the biggest killer of men under 50 and the highest suicide rate is among males aged 45-59.

Companies both small and large have the same concerns, it’s mainly a case of not knowing how to deal with the situation if it arises, but the most important thing is recognising that there is an issue. A survey carried out by the Building Engineering Services Association (BESA) and the Electrical Contractors’ Association (ECA) found that 80 per cent of employers recognised that mental health was a major issue, which is definitely a great place to start.

The construction industry has previously come together to address the challenge it faced in relation to the high number of accidents, and as a result health and safety has dramatically improved over the years. It now needs to come together to do the same for mental health, reducing potential risks and giving workers the help and support they need to deal with issues.
You don’t have to be suicidal to call Samaritans, they’re 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.

23rd September Journal Column

Web-LogoBy Catriona Lingwood, Chief Executive of Constructing Excellence in the North East

Next week, 26 September – 2 October, is World Green Building Week (WGBW), a week dedicated to raising awareness of green buildings, showing how they are the most effective means of achieving environmental, social and economic goals- from addressing climate change to creating sustainable homes, businesses and communities.

WGBW brings together Green Building Councils from around the world to create a public conversation about the role buildings play in our sustainable future. With dozens of countries, 75 Green Building Councils and their 27,000 member companies taking part, it’s the biggest and best opportunity each year for us to shine the spotlight on our global movement.

By working together at the same time all over the world, the message is louder and emphasises our collective mission to create sustainable built environments- it shows the industry is dedicated to making a change.

The theme for WGBW this year is; Change Your Perspective, which couldn’t come at a better time. There are so many facts and figures that are more than capable of changing how people think about green buildings. What we’ve been wanting for so long is to get people thinking about the benefits that green buildings bring to global emissions, energies and the economy, and this is the perfect opportunity to do so.

Saving the planet is something we’re all keen to do, everybody wants to be seen as ‘green’, anything from recycling to keeping emissions down by washing at low temperatures will make a difference. But one of the biggest differences that can be made lies within our industry, in house-building.

Companies are always thinking of new innovative ways of being efficient, from soap bubble building to offsite construction and now a French architecture firm, Multipod Studio, have unveiled a prototype for the PopUp House, a customisable home made from stackable blocks. Each house is made from stacked recyclable wooden panels and insulation blocks, all held together with wood screws – think LEGO, but less plastic and colourful.

The house can be designed, ordered, and built in about a month. It can be ordered online with costs varying depending on the quality of the materials and amenities. The house can be whatever you wish, whether it’s a small and cosy home or a spacious open office. Once ordered, the firm sends along building instructions and a construction team, and voila!

A construction team can build it in four days using only an electric screwdriver and it can be disassembled just as quickly. PopUp House is part of a growing sustainable architecture movement called passive construction – homes that are well-designed, low-cost, and energy-efficient. The PopUp House is airtight and watertight, which means it keeps its heat locked in.

Currently, PopUp House is only available in France, but the company plans to expand to the UK and I cannot wait to see this for myself. Think of all those years you spent building LEGO houses, and now you could actually live in one for real!

 

16th September Journal Column

Web-LogoBy Catriona Lingwood, Chief Executive of Constructing Excellence in the North East

The Construction 2025 strategy released in July 2013 by the Government looked at how we could continue working together to increase the success of the UK construction sector up to 2025. It’s been three years since the report was released, so by now we should be well on our way to achieving the targets set.

As well as setting ambitious targets for our industry, such as 33 per cent lower costs, 50 per cent lower emissions and 50 per cent faster delivery, the report originally set out five key themes that the Government believe are key to the long-term success of our industry:

  • People- we should be known as an industry that has a talented and diverse workforce
  • Smart- we should be known as an industry that is efficient and technologically leading the way
  • Sustainable- we should be known as an industry that leads the way in low-carbon and green construction exports
  • Growth- we should be seen an industry that drives growth across the entire economy
  • Leadership- we should be seen as an industry with clear leadership from an organisation such as the Construction Leadership Council

Following the latest review for 2016-2020, there are more key themes to add. The updated strategy is more concise and focused than the previous one, focusing on just four strategic priorities; Client Capability, Digital and Data Capability, Skills and the Supply Chain and Whole-Life Approaches.

The new strategy aims to increase productivity in government construction and deliver a further £1.7 billion in efficiency savings from public sector construction – it’s good to have an actual figure rather than just a percentage like we were originally given.

This time the strategy is more realistic, recognising that this is work in progress and there is still much to be done, but a lot can be achieved in nine years. It focuses on the fundamental issues that are holding back the industry from being more productive, such as; leadership, procurement practices, client capability, BIM, collaborative working, skills and whole life costs.

The strategy states that, by implementing the action plan to achieve the strategic priorities, “increased productivity will facilitate forecast efficiency savings of £1.7 billion over the course of this Parliament”. As the strategy states these forecasts “cannot be achieved without a highly-skilled, high-performing industry”.

The Construction 2025 strategy is at the heart of our vision at Constructing Excellence, and we seek to speed up the rate at which engaged players achieve the targets for improvement.

Constructing Excellence in the North East are holding the North East’s Construction Summit on Tuesday 20 September, focussing on the Government’s Construction 2025 Strategy along with the recent review for 2016-2020. During the Summit a Question Time panel with the G4C North East professionals of the industry will be held, discussing skills, collaborative working and their views for the future of the industry.

To book your place at the Construction Summit please contact Lauren Proctor on 0191 5007880 or lauren@cene.org.uk. 

9th September Journal Column

Jacksons Law FirmBy Simon Catterall, Partner at Jacksons Law Firm

Last year there were 144 fatalities in the work place, corresponding to a ratio of 0.46 deaths per 100,000 and 43 workers were killed in the construction industry. With a further three per cent of the workforce sustaining a work related injury and another three per cent a work related illness, it is no surprise that Health and Safety has come to the forefront of an industry that has evolved to impose an ever increasing responsibility on employers for the welfare of their staff.

Earlier this year the HSE launched its new, five-year strategy called ‘Helping Great Britain Work Well’. The strategy aims to tackle workplace ill health whilst streamlining legislation and guidance, and enabling businesses, especially SMEs, to take the right actions easily and efficiently.

Six strategic themes identified by the HSE are:

  • Acting together: promoting a broader ownership of Health and safety in the UK.
  • Tackling ill health: the costs of ignoring it to be highlighted.
  • Managing risk well: recognising risks and simplifying risk management.
  • Supporting small employers:
  • Keeping pace with change: anticipating and tackling new health and safety challenges as new technologies emerge.
  • Sharing our success: promoting the benefits of Great Britain’s world-class health and safety system.

 

While the industry safety record has improved massively in the 40 years since the innovative Health and Safety at Work Act (HSWA) 1974, the duty of the employer to constantly analyse and review practices only increases with a surge of new legislation and directions demanding yet further scrutiny or risk sustaining the massively enhanced penalties that came into effect earlier this year.

Many readers will be aware that fines are now proportional to company turnover, the various brackets meaning that both small and large businesses will feel the same profit draining impact. It’s still early days but some recent industry sentences are truly eye watering.

How, then, are businesses to evolve? The HSE perspective is one of increased cooperation i.e. by encouraging employers and employees to work together in a genuinely positive environment complemented by effective and proportionate regulation and risk management, quotecorner.com/ventolin.html, the health and safety system of any business will become more proactive and therefore stronger. This has to be the correct approach with the key lying in not just being aware of one’s responsibilities, but also keeping the whole business health and safety structure under constant review by absorbing and discussing inevitable changes in working practices in a management environment that includes all parties.

Jacksons Law Firm are hosting a seminar to update the construction sector on Health and Safety legislation. The event will take place at Ramside Hall, Durham on 21 September, with key speakers Simon Catterall and Mark Stouph covering topics including, a general review of the last 12 months, how Brexit could impact the industry and recent developments in court sentencing.

If you would like to register your place at this seminar, please contact Lauren Proctor at lauren@cene.org.uk or call 0191 500 7880.

2nd September Journal Column

Web-LogoBy Catriona Lingwood, Chief Executive of Constructing Excellence in the North East

The cyclical nature of our industry makes it difficult for firms to improve their efficiency and productivity. As with anything, trying to make one single, big thing happen proves a challenge.

In everyday life, the world survives this difficulty through millions of people making lots of little gains in different places all the time, so why can’t our industry work the same way?

To increase productivity, it’s been proposed that the whole supply chain should be involved in swarm activity – where a massive number of micro improvements are made at a faster rate than natural progression. The important thing is that everyone joins in, so that everyone benefits from the results, and in less time.

There are many bigger ideas in the industry that still have an important part to play and, often, they act as a catalyst for the team to identify all of the small opportunities not previously thought about. Workshops organised for the whole supply chain where discussions are had about the bigger ideas, including mapping out the processes involved often helps to identify small improvement opportunities that can be made along the way.

John Hall, Regional Director for Constructing Excellence in the East of England suggests five well-established concepts that can help to achieve increased productivity:

  • Supply chain management
  • Collaborative workshops
  • All the industry big ideas
  • Process mapping
  • Marginal gains

The whole supply chain should take part in regular workshops with a number of organisations participating in each. These workshops should explain the concept behind the workshops and obtain commitment to the need to improve. They should discuss a big idea and identify small improvements along the way. The idea is that each small improvement leads to a substantial benefit to everyone, meaning that everyone involved will be willing to do the work. The final part of the workshop should require everyone to sign off on their individual plans, so everybody knows exactly what they’re doing and are happy with their jobs.

Some of the bigger ideas that could benefit from this process, could be anything from BIM implementation and cost efficient low carbon solutions, to offsite manufacturing and new methods and technology – things that are currently very substantial within the industry.

I have every faith that businesses can pull together and boost the industry’s productivity, it might sound like a tough challenge, but to me it sounds like something that could actually work, and let’s face it, over the years we’ve certainly overcome much more.