What ex-offenders can bring to the industry

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

Government figures show that more than 82,500 people are in prisons across the UK and those who are set for release face re-entering society, getting their life back on track and starting the long, difficult process of looking for a job as an ex-offender.

Encouraging ex-offenders back into work reduces the likelihood of re-offending but it also gives employers access to a pool of talented and motivated individuals. Research shows that only 17% of ex-offenders are in PAYE work a year after prison release. Given that the industry is already struggling with a skills shortage and after Brexit it’s only going to get worse, hiring ex-offenders could solve many of our problems.

Since May 2018 more than 230 businesses have registered to work with prisons and set offenders on a path to employment. This is further to the 300 businesses around the UK including Halfords, Timpson, Virgin, Greggs, Pret a Manger, Boots and Balfour Beatty that are already employing ex-offenders. A few years ago, Esh Group co-ordinated the ‘Chance for Change’ programme. The programme offered 15 prisoners in Deerbolt Young Offenders’ Institution at Barnard Castle the opportunity to develop a range of skills prior to their release in a bid to stop them going back to a life of crime. The inmates took part in weekly workshops each led by managers from those businesses taking part in the project. They focused on issues such as the skills, attitude and behaviour important in the workplace, managing finances and living independently and personal responsibility. An important feature of the programme was the opportunity for some of the young men involved to be Released on Temporary Licence (ROTL), making it possible for them to go out of the prison on work experience.

Just last week, a new construction academy inside HMP Leeds was launched, training prisoners towards level one national vocational qualifications including bricklaying, tiling, carpentry and joinery. Kier are one of the first construction companies to support the initiative but I hope many others will follow suit.

There are plenty of programmes now to help get prisoners back into work and I’m so glad the industry is playing its part. By expanding the use of ROTL for work and broadening access to training and work opportunities for prisoners we can work towards steering them away from a life of crime and towards a new life with a stable job and new skills under their belt. Not to mention, they will be filling the skills gaps and the workers shortage that is only expected to get worse – it really is a win-win situation for all involved.

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.

Why you shouldn’t overlook the North East

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

Our region might have fewer big projects than those down South and we certainly get less attention than those big-money schemes but that’s not to say we should be overlooked. We might be small and have faced (and overcome) many obstacles, but we still have plenty to shout about and there are many reasons to feel optimistic about the future of construction in the North East.

We’ve worked hard over the years to get the industry to where it is now. We’ve employed methods and models to support new housing delivery, using council-owned land and assets and innovative funding models.  We’ve seen the rejuvenation of Newcastle’s West End through a £265m investment designed to address growing housing needs by building energy-efficient homes using sustainable materials within a sustainable community. A public-private joint venture at Ouseburn Quarter to develop new mixed tenure homes across brownfield sites will also lever in £57m of private sector funding to develop a new residential community – the perfect mix of small businesses from creative industries, pubs, eateries and music venues.

Newcastle Helix, the £350m flagship project brought together the public sector, academia, communities, business and industry and created around 4,000 jobs. The building and its surroundings are themselves experiments that use micro-metering to provide detailed, real time performance data. This will be used to inform the future design of building services, materials selection, urban drainage, energy systems and infrastructure. It’s a perfect example of sustainable urban development combining commercial and residential space with research and education facilities. I’m so proud that something like this was created in the North East.

There have also been new plans submitted for a £250 million urban village to be built on the former Calders site. The development hopes to deliver an urban village consisting of 1,500 residential properties, a hotel and commercial and leisure space. The site has been neglected now for 20 years and the regeneration scheme is set to redevelop the area between Central Station and the Quayside, creating up to 1000 jobs in the process.

These examples all showcase the North East’s ability and the great things we can and have achieved. Given that we’re smaller, receive less attention and funding than elsewhere in the country, we often have to come up with our own solutions and work together to make the North East somewhere people want to live and work and I personally think we do that very well. I’m proud of what we’ve achieved, in terms of housing, innovation and driving digitalisation and am more than confident we can deal with whatever Brexit issues come our way in the coming months.

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

A new procurement era ahead?

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

Unless you’ve been holidaying in some far-flung place in the past few weeks, you’ll know that the vacancy for the North of Tyne Mayor has been filled and Jamie Driscoll is now in office.  A key part of the mayor’s manifesto is to enable small businesses to win public sector work.

That very subject was the catalyst for the formation of Construction Alliance North East (CAN) in 2016. Since then, CAN has garnered support from many local MPs and industry bodies such as the Construction Industry Council and in 2018 successfully supported NEPO to develop its £300m Building Construction Works framework which resulted in a number of local companies being appointed.

The new mayor hopes to improve opportunities for small businesses by ‘creating a procurement framework to level the playing field for local businesses and keep those profits here. As well as encourage local public services such as council, hospital and universities to join this framework.’ He will also be building on the pioneering approach of Preston by working with employers to ensure that they prioritise local small businesses and local employment when procuring supplies and services. Since changing its procurement approach back in 2013, Preston has increased public sector spend in the city from 5% to an impressive 18%, returning in excess of £275m to the local economy and reducing unemployment from 6.5% to 3.5%. CAN firmly believes that by adopting a considered approach to public sector procurement, which ensures that tendering opportunities are structured in such a way to include rather than preclude regional SMEs, there is no reason why the North East cannot benefit in the same way that areas such as Preston have.

As the leading voice for SME contractors in the region, CAN is very much looking forward to working with the mayor’s office to provide guidance and support to help shape the procurement framework at such an exciting time for the region. However, whether using new or existing frameworks, CAN feels strongly that the following recommendations should be implemented.  Frameworks should recognise the specialisms and expertise of SME’s and should be based around a clear valued work bank with a commitment from clients to deliver work via the framework.  The number of companies on the framework should be proportionate to the framework value and the time and cost of the selection process should be reduced substantially.  Also, frameworks must encourage the use of the Social Value Act and promote better monitoring of contract performance ensuring fair treatment of all suppliers.

CAN is the main sponsor for Constructing Excellence North East’s ‘Procuring for Value’ event taking place on 13 June at The Grand Gosforth Park Hotel.  The event will look at what the Procuring for Value workstream is, how it will operate and the opportunities it will create for the industry and the region.

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.

Why the next 10 years are important for climate change

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

We work in one of the biggest industries in the world, and because of what we do, we have the most potential to make a difference on protecting the environment. One of the biggest differences that can be made lies within our industry, in house-building.

The Climate Change Act, the first legally binding framework for tackling climate change, was introduced back in 2008. It sets legally binding targets, creates new powers, changes the institutional framework, establishes systems to ensure accountability and addresses resilience to climate change. It is most notably known for the commitment to cut emissions of greenhouse gasses by at least 34% by 2020 and by 80% by 2050 compared with 1990 levels – something we’ve all been slowly working towards.

Last week, the Committee on Climate Change responded to a government request to reassess the UK’s long-term emissions targets. The published report suggested the UK can end its contribution to global warming by setting a target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050, which will require outstanding levels of energy efficiency alongside zero carbon electricity and heat supplies. The target referred to as ‘net zero’ would be met by some sources of emissions being offset by removal of CO2 from the atmosphere.

The report suggests that foundations are in place to implement the policy throughout the UK. A net-zero target will deliver on the commitment that the UK made by signing the Paris Agreement. It is achievable with known technologies within the expected economic cost that Parliament accepted when it legislated the existing 2050 target for an 80% reduction from 1990. However, this is only possible if credible, well designed policies are ramped up significantly. I feel like this is a positive step forward for climate change and it shows that people are finally taking it seriously. We all need to take responsibility in our own lives to tackle climate change, especially in our efforts to achieving net zero emissions by 2050 and our industry has a big role to play in that.

The government welcomed the report but has yet to accept the recommendations. We need to make the changes and start delivering them as soon as possible, the sooner the better if you ask me. According to reports, the industry has just over 10 years to make sure all new buildings are net zero carbon by 2030 – given how quick the last 10 years of the Climate Change Act has gone it will be here before we know it.

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

What do the under 30’s think of the industry?

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

This week, Building’s survey of the perceptions of young people found that those working and studying in the industry are optimistic about their careers and happy in their work.

For so long we’ve been trying to change young people’s perception of the industry and encourage more people to consider a career in construction, so it’s great to hear that those in the industry enjoy what they’re doing.

The survey asked almost 500 young people about their perceptions of the sector and found more than 90% were happy in their jobs and over two-thirds felt their careers were satisfying, fulfilling and that a career in the industry is full of variety, exciting and enjoyable. Construction is about changing and shaping the world around us for the better – what’s more varied than that?

However, as with most things it wasn’t all positive news. Many felt that pay and working conditions did not favour young people, with 16% saying that low pay and long hours were the biggest things they would improve about construction – which is fair enough. Thankfully, the rise of the gig economy and zero-hour contracts hasn’t impacted their ambition and position within the industry, with 89% aspiring to a senior position and 94% still feeling secure in their job.

As a traditionally male-dominated industry, we’ve been struggling for a while now to improve our image and gender diversity. Gender pay gap reporting practices and a number of schemes have highlighted the problem but also resulted in more companies working to address the imbalance – and this isn’t going unnoticed by the younger generation. Nearly seven in 10 respondents believe construction is actively seeking to increase the number of women entering the industry.

When asked what one thing they would change about the industry, their priorities in order were:

  • Better pay and shorter working hours
  • Gender quality and an end to sexism
  • Construction to take its role in global sustainability and climate change seriously
  • The industry to speed up its modernisation process
  • To be respected, listened to and recognised for the work they do

So, is the industry actually listening to what its new generation want? One respondent said they feel that those with more experience look down on younger people and don’t respect them as much as others. Here at Constructing Excellence in the North East, we certainly respect the younger generation. Generation4Change is our group established to be the voice of the younger generation. Part of the Constructing Excellence movement it comprises of young professionals who are passionate about making a difference in the sector. Each year, we host the G4C North East Awards in celebration of the region’s emerging talent and it’s one of my favourite events of the year. I’m really looking forward to celebrating with them all this Friday.

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.