22nd December Journal Column


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

It’s that time of year again when everywhere you look there are reviews of the last 12 months and predictions of what we can expect from the year ahead. If I had to summarise what 2017 was like for our industry, I would say three things- progressive, amazing and bloomin’ hard work!

A new year is a natural point in time to stop, assess how things have gone over the past 12 months, look at everything that we’ve achieved and look at what we can do better in the coming year. 2017 marked the beginning of the future of the industry, it was the first year after the fallout of Brexit and the first full year of the BIM level 2 mandate.

Chancellor Philip Hammond made his first Autumn budget since abolishing the Spring statement and within it was plenty of positive news for the industry, which hopefully sets precedent for things to come. House-building and the industry was front and centre of the statement, with many announcements setting out new funding for housebuilding, training and transport. He announced £15.3bn new financial support for house building over the next five years, taking the total to at least £44 billion. By the mid-2020s, it is the government’s aim is to have 300,000 homes being built every year, the highest level of house-building since the 1970s. In the financial year 2016-17 a total of 217,000 homes were built in England, the highest number since the financial crisis, so I’m pretty confident we’ll get there, things are certainly going in the right direction.

As well as the industry, we at Constructing Excellence in the North East (CENE) have had a very eventful year. We’ve had the Constructing Excellence Awards, both Regional and National, which continue to succeed every year. We’ve supported young people by hosting our second Generation 4 Change Awards, celebrating young professionals in the industry and worked closely with schools and colleges to encourage more young people to consider a career in the industry. We were honoured to have Mark Farmer, author of the Modernise or Die report, visit the North East to speak at this year’s Construction Summit. This year alone, Constructing Excellence held over 250 events, with more than 17,000 participants and raised over £26,000 for charity through our annual awards programme.

There are so many other things that I could mention as it’s certainly been another busy year, but I don’t want to keep you away from your festivities for too long! So, there’s just one thing left for me to say, from all of us at Constructing Excellence in the North East, we wish you a very Merry Christmas and a happy and prosperous new year. Let’s see what 2018 has in store for us!

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.

15th December Journal Column


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

We started the week with a yellow weather warning, flight cancellations and school closures, and with the snow and ice expected to stick around, I can’t help but think of those working on sites or outdoors.

Aside from the fact it’s freezing cold, sites can be very dangerous in the bad weather. In the winter, strong winds, cold temperatures, snow and rain have the potential to cause serious hazards for workers in the industry. The unpredictability of the British weather makes it hard to plan, but we’re pretty much guaranteed to have bad weather (it is the UK after all) so there are a few precautions that can be followed to ensure working on site is as safe as possible. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) advises:

  • Shielding any areas that could be worst hit by the weather.
  • Creating heated break areas where workers can warm up.
  • Scheduling outside work to be carried out in shorter durations, so workers don’t have to face the elements for long periods of time.
  • Wearing the correct gear that is fully insulated to retain body heat.
  • Checking the site for any new hazards that could have been caused by the bad weather.

As with anything, the most important factor to consider, especially in health and safety, is education. Educating employees on the importance of staying safe and how they can go about it, is the most successful way of keeping workers safe on site. Keeping up to date with weather reports when planning projects can also ensure workers don’t spend too long in extreme conditions.

Slips, trips and falls are the most common construction site accidents and although they can happen all year round, icy, wet or slippery surfaces increase the risk. Scaffolding and ladders get very slippery with frost and ice and a fall from a height could be life threatening especially when coupled with freezing temperatures. Also, prolonged exposure to the cold can cause workers to suffer from colds, bronchitis, asthma, painful joints and fatigue. In extreme cases, workers outside for long periods, without the right protection, could even suffer hypothermia, frostbite and chilblains.

In the UK, there is no legal minimum outdoor working temperature, so it is important that everyone understands the hazards associated with the cold weather. Pay attention to how you’re feeling and look out for others around you. You know your body best and although the job might take a little longer to get finished, the most important thing is the health and safety of the workforce. After all, nobody wants to be ill for Christmas, do they?

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.

8th December Journal Column

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

The industry’s skills shortage has always been something that has concerned me, so I’m always happy to hear of initiatives or training aimed at upskilling employees or training new recruits with the skills the industry needs.

Plans to invest £76m into retraining adults who want to work in the digital and construction sectors were announced ahead of the budget last month. I have voiced my opinion numerous times on the need for more opportunities for workers and for better training standards, so it’s really encouraging to see schemes and initiatives dedicated to just that.

As a first step, £36m will be invested in digital skills courses using Artificial Intelligence, with a further £40m being invested in construction training programmes for groundworkers, bricklayers, roofers and plasterers. In order to build the homes that we desperately need, it’s important there are enough workers with the right skills to meet this challenge. With the government planning to build 300,000 homes every year by the mid-2020s, we’ve certainly got our work cut out, and skilled workers are crucial to ensure we hit the targets that have been set.

Digital skills are definitely the future and the government announcements show there are solid plans to future-proof the industry and its workforce. The funding is provided in advance of launching a National Retraining Scheme that will help people get new skills. It will be overseen by the government, the Trades Union Congress (TUC) and the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) who will all decide on other areas where new skills and training courses are needed. It’s encouraging to see the formal partnership between the government, CBI and the TUC to oversee the roll-out of the scheme. This is what we’ve wanted for such a long time, the industry and the government to work together and deliver the training, the housing and the skilled workforce we’ve desperately been crying out for. But it is the training decisions that take place every day across the country that will make a difference – so a genuine partnership is needed so that the whole workforce benefits.

The White Paper also showed commitment to T-levels and ensuring children are well informed on the alternative routes to the traditional academic route that are available after school, showing technical routes as an equally valued option. At the end of the day, we need a workforce that has the skills we need. Whether that is made up of retrained workers or those just coming into the industry, they just need to be prepared for the challenges ahead and be equipped to deal with the digital world we’re soon going to find ourselves 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.

1st December Journal Column

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

Earlier this week, the government announced the long awaited Industrial Strategy white paper. Thankfully, the construction sector was one of the industries chosen to receive a government boost, in the deal planned to boost productivity.

As of recently, I’d say the industry has been in a good position, but there’s always room for improvement and it helps to have the government in your corner. It was announced that the industry will receive £170m worth of government investment, through the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, to support innovation and improve productivity across the whole sector. The deal has been put in place to ensure more investment in innovation and skills, leading to new, well-paid jobs and maximising its export potential. It will also reduce the environmental impact, improve the efficiency and reduce whole life cost of new projects and buildings to help build the houses, schools, hospitals and transport projects we desperately need.

The deal, the first of a series that the government intends to negotiate with the industry, contains commitments to work collaboratively in three key areas;

Procuring for Value – The government will work with industry professionals across both public and private sectors to ensure projects are built based on their whole life value, rather than capital cost. This will mean considering all costs associated with the life of a building, from inception to construction, occupation and operation and disposal, which is a much better way of assessing value for money. They will also develop a procurement standard and develop cost and performance benchmarks for assets and contractors.

Industry-led Innovation – There will be commitment to invest in a programme which brings together the construction, digital technology, manufacturing, materials and energy sectors to develop and commercialise digital and offsite manufacturing technologies. This is one that I’m eager to see play out, I’ve been pushing for more attention on digital and technology, it’s definitely the way the world is moving, so it’s important the industry moves with it.

Skills for the Future – Increased investment in skills development and adopting a more strategic approach to recruitment and equipping workers with the skills they will need, will be achieved through a commitment to implement reforms to the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB). The deal will ensure the CITB is more strategic and industry led, enabling the industry to make best use of funding from the Apprenticeship Levy made live in April. 

It’s promising to know that the government have recognised the importance of productivity in the industry. It proves that the government do listen. For so long we’ve been calling for more commitment to infrastructure, skills and more digital solutions, and that’s exactly what we got.

It’s now up to us to ensure the plans laid down are achieved. With the hard-working workforce that I know we have and the government behind us, I don’t see any reason why we can’t achieve them.

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.