28th April Journal Column

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

 Construction Alliance Northeast (CAN), which represents the interests of over 500 SME companies in the regional construction and contracting sector, recently launched its Construction Charter. The aim of CAN’s charter is to create awareness about the need to re-think public procurement strategy so that regional SMEs get a better chance to compete for contracts in the open market.

The companies CAN represents have a combined turnover of some £3 billion and employ more than 10,000 people – a group well placed to make a significant contribution to regional GDP. 

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 big on collaboration, so I am encouraged by the kind of improvements that the charter calls for.  It’s encouraging to see that some regional public sector bodies are already taking steps to implement fairer procurement policies which put local companies first whenever possible.

CAN’s Construction Charter sets out a six-point plan for public sector procurement reform, highlighting the need for a greater focus in tender documentation on increasing local contractor participation, the inclusion of social, economic and environmental considerations, particularly on carbon footprint reduction and the eco benefits of using regional rather than national contractors.

It calls for ‘intelligent procurement practice’, which sounds like common sense, but it has not always been possible for regional public sector bodies to operate in this way due to government directives. For example, during the recession the creation of national frameworks led to many smaller, regional construction firms being locked out and a number went out of business. 

 Next month the North East Procurement Organisation’s (NEPO) Building Construction Framework and its related supply chain will be re-tendered – one of the biggest opportunities for regional firms.  NEPO’s Michael Curtis has been consulting heavily with industry bodies to ensure intelligent procurement practice gives regional firms more chance to win a place on the framework this time.

 he North East LEP is also developing a multidisciplinary construction strategy for the North East to support its North East Strategic Economic Plan (SEP).  The SEP recognises the importance to the region of infrastructure, new homes and work space so a cohesive approach to construction is essential if the target of 100,000 new and better jobs is to be achieved by 2024. 

We all want to see a healthy and sustainable regional economy.  With the UK’s departure from the EU it is just the right time to turn up the volume about intelligent procurement practice.  Sunderland City Council is the first local authority to have signed up to CAN’s new charter, so the first steps are already being taken to reform procurement, I look forward to seeing more following in their footsteps.

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.

21st April Journal Article

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

By now we should all be aware of offsite construction, but for those of you that aren’t, offsite construction is a modern way of building that sees the unit being constructed offsite in a factory-controlled environment. The building is then delivered to the site where the ground works and foundations will have been prepared.

Last year, the Construction Leadership Council commissioned Mark Farmer to undertake a review of the UK’s construction labour model. The report stated that pre-fab housing is the way forward when it comes to producing more affordable homes to regenerate the property market, and I couldn’t agree more.  

Earlier this month, H+H UK Ltd and SIG Offsite launched i-house, a new house building system which sees homes built in just five days. The system provides all the speed of offsite construction with the familiarity of a traditional build, going from foundations to roof in five short days.

The system can encompass the inner leaves of external cavity walls, floors, lintel, cavity closers, insulation and roof trusses. With the inclusion of soffit and fascia, it delivers the internal skin of a property, fully wrapped and ready for follow-on trades. It really can do it all, with only one contactor required to deliver the whole house shell. It can be used on the construction of domestic houses of up to two storey height, replacing the structure of the inner leaf of external cavity walls, separating walls and internal partitions with storey height Celcon Elements. They are Installed by the SIG Offsite team and Celcon Elements are craned into place and fixed using H+H element mortar.

Off-site construction has many benefits compared to traditional build; it is safer, more efficient and has the potential to greatly minimise on-site waste. With many offsite projects all happening under the same roof, it also means it’s easier to take inventory of leftover materials and use them on other projects, as opposed to other methods where surplus would be dumped in the recycle bin. This is a much better way of preventing waste and reducing unnecessary costs.

This method of construction now widely used in the housing and education sector and it could be just what we’re looking for when it comes to how we ease the housing crisis in the UK.

‘Prefabs’ are now a strong, reliable way of building homes, a complete 360 degree from the 1940s when cheap, flimsy units were built to address the home shortage. Regardless of the quality, pre-fabricated homes helped solve the crisis back then, so there’s nothing stopping them working now.  Reuters has reported that housebuilders including Berkeley, Taylor Wimpey, and Persimmon have said they are either considering or planning new developments of prefabricated homes. Who knows, 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.

22nd September 2016 Newsletter

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15th September 2016 Newsletter

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8th September 2016 Newsletter

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1st September 2016 Newsletter

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25th August 2016 Newsletter

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18th August 2016 Newsletter

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20th May Journal Column

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

The Court of Appeal has backed the government’s decision to waive affordable housing requirements for small developments.
The decision, which has of course been welcomed by the Federation of Masters Builders (FMB) and SMEs across the country, means that for developments of 10 homes or fewer, local councils cannot impose affordable housing or Section 106 contributions.

Section 106 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 enables local planning authorities to seek contributions from developers to provide affordable housing and mitigate the impact of developments.

The housing minister first announced the news in November 2014, but West Berkshire Council and Reading Borough Council quickly joined forces to challenge the proposal, meaning the case was dragged through the courts, going back and forth for the past two years. The High Court first quashed the plans to exempt developments of less than 10 homes last year, but then the government appealed and the Court of Appeal finally overturned the High Court’s decision last week (11 May) – and about time too!

The government have criticised the decision by the councils to take legal action, calling it a waste of tax payers’ money and I completely agree with housing and planning minister, Brandon Lewis, when he said it just restores common sense to the system. It now means that builders don’t suffer just because they’re developing smaller sites.

The decision will back SME house builders, which I have been fully supportive of for many years. Not only will it make it much easier for small scale developments, but it should put SME house builders at ease. There are many small sites which builders are keen in developing, but they are put off by the Section 106 charges, which is a shame for the housing market.

The councils could have used the time and money it’s taken over the past two years, to support new housebuilding in areas where it is very much needed. The contributions have stopped the potential development of a huge number of small sites, which could have played a massive part in helping us reach the 275,000 affordable homes needed by 2020.

The new threshold will protect small developments from unaffordable, unnecessary requirements, meaning they can finally get back to what they’re good at, building small, sustainable developments.

22nd April 2016 Journal Column

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

Prompt payment, or the lack of it, is such a big issue in our industry and it has repercussions that not everybody is aware of. Not only does it cause economic and social damage, but it has really tarnished the reputation of the industry, and it’s about time that changed.

Finance is a huge problem for our industry and a one I don’t think we’ve taken seriously enough in the past. In everyday life you pay for things immediately, whether that be goods or services, and you wouldn’t dream of asking to delay the payment or paying less than what was due, so why should our industry be any different?

Prompt payment, more often referred to as late payments since it’s becoming more of a rarity that they are ever prompt, is everyone paying what they are due as soon as it is due, or earlier.

Earlier this year, Constructing Excellence held a members’ forum discussing the subject of payment. Industry professionals from contractors to suppliers, shared their opinions and shed light from all perspectives, on how late payments affect their work. The outcome of the session was that good practice needs to be carried out throughout the project, whether it be with the client or the contractor, and everyone should pay on time to help the project run smoothly- no surprises there then.

With the rest of the industry digitising, integrating collaborative design and construction processes, and with the new Building Information Model (BIM) mandate going live earlier this month, it surprises me that the way we pay our bills is yet to catch up. For everything else, payment is now automated, we can complete transactions easily via apps, or Paypal, so automatically paying bills online once work is verified and complete could be the answer to all of our problems. It just doesn’t make sense that when it comes to making a payment we are so out-dated, but we have robots capable of building houses.

In a bid to encourage prompt payment, many subcontractors have inflated their tender prices to cover the costs they incur when their customers pay late. Textura found that on average, four per cent is added to costs to cover late payment, but subcontractors did say that they would discount prices by an average of 2.35 per cent if contractors paid promptly – within 30 days.

During the forum, when asked why it was necessary to delay payments, the answers included; project defects, no cash and a simple ‘because I can’, showing that most of the inefficiencies could be resolved by better industry attitudes and behaviours.

Thankfully, the case for prompt payment was particularly strong, with people understanding why prompt payment was so essential. Resolving the current issues could potentially deliver immediate financial benefits to projects and companies, improving the industry as a whole. If more businesses practice prompt payment, the reputation of the industry will sharp change to one that is trusting, capable of collaborative working and most importantly, ethical!