24th March Journal Column

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

The end of 2016 marked the end of the industry as we know it. A lot of big, important decisions were made and there was a lot of uncertainty surrounding the impact they would have on the industry.  But despite the apprehension, mainly around the Brexit vote, it seems we ended the year on a high.

The latest Markit/CIPS UK Construction purchasing managers’ index (PMI) shows that output increased 1.8 per cent in December on the previous month and we ended the year on a high compared to the year before – so we must be doing something right. Output during the three months from September to November was 0.1 per cent down on the three months before, but still 1.6 per cent higher than a year ago. So, although output was marginally getting worse month-to-month, it was still much higher than it had been the year before and I’ll certainly take that!

The Office of National Statistics (ONS) showed that private commercial work, alongside housing, were the main drivers of growth. Data from ONS shows that all construction work reached a seasonally-adjusted index reading of 116.5 in December 2016, marking the second-highest output index figure since the monthly dataset began at the start of 2010. New housing work also increased in December reaching its highest level in six years (the index is based on 2013 figures representing 100).

According to new research, we’ll need to recruit more than two million staff in the next five years to deliver the number of homes we require. So, although we’re still struggling for skilled workers, we are actually working. The increase in output just goes to show that the industry cannot be discouraged and we will keep working to make our industry great.

While Decembers output was encouraging, figures suggested growth in the sector slowed down in January. But all hope is not lost, the survey also suggested confidence was high among companies in the industry, with 51 per cent forecasting a rise in activity this year. We just need to keep momentum going, get our heads down and hit our targets.

Going forward in 2017 I expect companies to become more cautious with the impact of Brexit looming, which, following Theresa May’s speech in January claiming the UK will leave the European single market and the EU customs union, might be even messier than we first originally thought. But, let’s not be disheartened, we had a lot of reason to be wary in 2016 and we’ve still managed to come out on top.

Watson Burton supports major construction industry Awards event

Construction specialists, Watson Burton have once again demonstrated close ties to the sector by sponsoring a major industry award.

The Newcastle head-quartered firm is sponsoring the Value category in the Constructing Excellence in the North East Awards 2017, which will take place on June 16 at the Newcastle Marriott Gosforth Park Hotel.

The awards, now in their 13th year, are organised by Constructing Excellence North East (CENE) and recognise achievements in the region’s built environment.

The Value award will honour an initiative, project or series of projects that has focused on the value of facilities in use and the outcomes for owners and users. Winners will show how whole life cost and value has been considered from the outset, combining capital costs on construction with maintenance, operational and occupiers’ costs.

Additional award categories include: Young Achiever; Integration and Collaborative Working; People Development; Sustainability; Digital Construction; Innovation; Health, Safety and Wellbeing; Preservation and Rejuvenation; Client of the Year, SME of the Year, Outstanding Achievement; and Project of the Year.

Watson Burton are one of the most well-known legal names when it comes to providing advice to the construction sector. The well-established and widely-respected team has worked with some of the UK’s largest housebuilders, developers and contractors, providing advice to both private and public sector clients throughout the whole life cycle of projects.

Headed by partners Sarah Wilson and David Spires, the construction team have particular experience in mediation and adjudication as well as vast expertise in procurement, project documentation, risk analysis, problem solving and dispute resolution.

Watson Burton has worked with a wide range of clients involved in the construction sector, including Clancy Docwra, Bellway Homes Limited, Keepmoat Regeneration, Lucion Services, Applebridge Construction, Lloyds Bank and Barnsley College.

In conjunction with CENE, Watson Burton also co-host the monthly First Friday Club, a networking event for people in the construction industry or for those with an interest in the built environment, with the next event taking place at The Crowne Plaza Hotel, Newcastle on March 3, 2017.

Sarah Wilson, partner in Watson Burton’s Construction team, commented: “We are delighted to be sponsoring the Value category in this year’s Constructing Excellence North East Awards 2017. There are numerous companies in our region which are dedicated to ensuring that facilities are great places to live and work for owners and users and we’re looking forward to seeing their exciting new projects come to the fore this year.

“Watson Burton has a long-standing relationship with Constructing Excellence North East and we’re proud to be associated with this prestigious event, one that has become a real highlight in the construction industry’s calendar.”

Catriona Lingwood, CEO of Constructing Excellence in the North East, added: “We greatly value the continued support of the Construction Team at Watson Burton since the Awards’ inception in 2005. The Awards have grown immensely over the last 13 years and are now the highlight of the built environment calendar, showcasing all that is good about the people, organisations and projects in our industry.”

The deadline for entries for the Constructing Excellence North East Awards 2017 is February 28. For more information visit https://cene.org.uk/award/cene-2017-categories/

17th February Journal Column

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

Last week, the government published the long-awaited Housing White Paper, which revealed something we’ve all known for a long time– the housing market is broken.

While the housing shortage has always been particularly bad in London, it’s getting worse up and down the country. A single Housing White Paper was never going to be broad enough to tackle all of the current issues that the housing market has, but it does set out a framework which is targeted at addressing the bigger issues that need improvement. It highlights two main facts that could be to blame for the state of the housing market – that there aren’t enough local authorities planning for the homes needed and that house building is simply too slow.

The government is planning to force developers to increase their building rates by compulsory purchasing their land if they have not started building within two years (rather than three) after receiving planning permission, which should slowly but surely speed up the building process.

The government seem determined to build a stronger, fairer Britain, breaking down barriers to progress by making the big, difficult decisions that are right for Britain in the long term. Housing is increasingly unaffordable, whether you’re buying or renting, ordinary working class people are struggling to get on the property ladder, and that’s something that really needs to change. Plans to move away from home ownership and focus on creating more homes of different tenures – particularly shared ownership and private rent, should move us in the right direction.

People need security to plan for the future and having a home plays a big part in that. We need to build more homes, make sure they’re the type of homes that people want to live in and in the places where people want to live. Building homes that nobody wants to buy is a waste of time and money that could be better used elsewhere.

Councils will now be required to produce a realistic plan for housing demand and review it at least every five years. Currently, 40 per cent of local planning authorities do not have an up-to-date plan that meets the projected growth in the number of households in their area which is just not acceptable.

The government have also committed to the green belt, confirming that they will target abandoned sites in towns, cities and on brownfield land to build homes. Councils and developers will be expected to build more homes in areas where there is a shortage of land and in locations well served by public transport, places where people are more likely to want to live.

As 60 per cent of new homes are built by just 10 companies, which really isn’t a lot, the government will back more small independent builders through the £3 billion Home Building Fund. Since the 1970s, an average of 160,000 homes a year have been built in England, that’s 115,000 less than what is needed now to keep up with the country’s growing population and catch up with years of under supply, so the more companies building, the better in my eyes.

We’ve been promised a lot this year and with the impact of Brexit and the outcome of the Autumn Statement coming into play we’re certainly going to see a lot of changes, and I for one am excited to see it all unfold.

10th February Journal Column

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

Last month, the Prime Minister, Theresa May announced a £170m investment in new institutes of technology, to boost the skills of 16 to 24 year olds as part of a new Modern Industrial Strategy. We’re constantly asking for more effort to be put into training and encouraging young people in to the industry, so it’s good to know that it’s part of the Prime Minister’s plan for post-Brexit Britain.
As we leave the EU, it’s important that we make our country one of the most competitive places to start and grow a business. We need to create a high-skilled economy, so that Britain stands tall, so we must improve skills and opportunities so we can close the gap between the best people, places and businesses.

The £170m for overhauling technical education is to be spent on setting up institutes of technology teaching science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM subjects). There will also be a reform of technical qualifications, a university-style application system for courses, specialist maths schools and action to tackle skills shortages. For a long time, technical education for school leavers has been neglected, with large differences in skill levels between regions and it’s time that finally changed.

The new technical colleges will give young people that want to pursue a technical career the same opportunities and respect given to those who go to university, and it means that overall, young people are being provided with more options to choose from after school. It is all part of the PM’s bigger plan to shake up technical education, ensuring young people develop the skills they need to do highly paid and high-skilled jobs.
Following the announcement of the industrial strategy, apprenticeship and skills minister, Robert Halfon MP visited Gateshead College. The plan is to have a full revamp of technical education, and the minister hopes the new strategy will lead to more institutions across the country following the lead of the College. It’s so important that we can offer young people every possible opportunity. There are plenty of options for those that want to take that academic route, but we must also cater for those who would prefer another route. The government’s long-term goal is to raise the position of skills and technical education as something as a prestigious as going to university. It’s very promising to hear that the North East is already ahead of the game in terms of technical education and colleges – well done us!

The Construction Industry Council, Constructing Excellence and partners are holding the North East’s Construction Summit on Tuesday 11 May, where the new Modern Industrial Strategy will be discussed in more detail. For more information on the summit, contact Leanne McAngus on 0191 500 7880 or email leanne@cene.org.uk.