Driving change for inclusivity in the industry

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

At the weekend thousands of people marched through Newcastle to celebrate inclusivity and diversity. Constructing Excellence in the North East joined the parade to demonstrate support for the construction industry’s LGBT+ workforce, under the banner of #BuildingEquality, the national LGBT+ Construction Working Group.

We extended the invite to anyone working in the industry, whether they identify as LGBT+ or as an ally, wanting to demonstrate support for LGBT colleagues. We were thrilled to have organisations such as FaulknerBrowns, Space Architecture, Mott MacDonald, Arup, Cundall, Atkins and Wood PLC marching alongside us.

This year’s Pride marks 50 years since the Stonewall uprising in New York, an event which led to some of the first pride marches. It also marks 30 years since Stonewall was founded by a group of people who wanted to break down barriers to equality.

Earlier this year, Stonewall released its report of the top 100 LGBT+ employers and in the seven years of the report no construction company has made the list although Housing Associations do. While that is disappointing, the industry has made huge progress in that time in terms of industry press, networks and companies raising the profile of LGBT+ issues and individuals in construction. The network Building Equality formed back in 2015 is an alliance of construction organisations and professionals working together to drive LGBT+ inclusion in the construction sector. Stereotypes and misconceptions are usually just a case of not being educated on the LGBT+ community. Building Equality increases the exposure of the community and spreads the right message in the right way. The network has grown substantially by expanding their reach from London into regional hubs in Leeds and Manchester, and fingers crossed, soon to be the North East. The network has grown to over 30 of the biggest companies in the industry and its only going to keep growing. It would be great to have them in the North East supporting the LGBT+ community and educating the industry.

We’ve come on leaps and bounds in terms of inclusivity in the industry but that’s not to say there isn’t more work to be done. There are so many people working in the industry, it’s understandably going to be difficult to change everyone’s outlook but the amount of people from the industry who supported us at Pride prove that things are beginning to.

Going forward we need to be encouraging the industry to be better represented within the Stonewall index. Change cannot be driven by one or a few companies, we need to do this together. We need to all improve our efforts to help the industry move in the right direction and next year, Northern Pride is hosting the national Pride parade, so we’re working towards a fantastic turnout under the Building Equality banner. Will you be joining 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.

Changing the image of construction

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

Construction is one of the biggest industries in the world and, because of what we do, we have a real potential to make a difference. More than any other industry, our decisions, innovation, ideas and products have a direct impact on the environment, the local community and area. Because of this, it means that we’re susceptible to criticism, most of which I don’t think is always fair.

We’ve struggled with the tarnished image of the industry for some time now. There are many preconceptions by the general public and a lot of it comes from a poor example of how a few firms conduct themselves, but it’s not a true representation of the industry as a whole. Because of this, those companies that conduct proper, conscientious work are the ones working so hard to change perceptions and present an accurate reflection of the industry.

Over 20 years ago, the Considerate Constructors Scheme was launched as an initiative by the industry, for the industry. It was originally started to improve the image of construction and the scheme now shows the very best of the construction – those who are considerate towards customers, their workforce and the environment. The Scheme works through registration of construction sites, companies, suppliers and professional service organisations. They agree to abide by the Code of Considerate Practice and are monitored by industry professionals on their performance. Every year, the Scheme registers around 8,000 sites and makes over 18,000 visits to sites and suppliers.

A great way to create a positive brand image is to simply show that you care. As an industry we’re more aware of the effect we’re having on the environment and we are changing the way we plan and carry out projects. Ever since the introduction of the Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012, the procurement landscape has been changing with public sector bodies now requiring contractors to deliver ‘added value’ as part of contracts. Construction companies need to show that they are considering the environment when planning and carrying out projects. It also pays to get involved in community projects and show your dedication to corporate social responsibility.

The Code of Considerate Practice commits those sites, companies and suppliers registered with the Scheme to care about appearance, respect the community, protect the environment, secure everyone’s safety and value their workforce. These not only benefit the workforce, but also the local community and the environments in which they operate. It also proves to the public that you take Corporate Social Responsibility seriously, strengthening the value of your brand and your organisation’s standing – and it helps with the image and reputation of the industry which is what we’ve been trying to do all along.

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.

Two years after Genfell, what’s still to be done?

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

Following the devastation of the Grenfell Tower tragedy, the government carried out an independent review of the Building Regulations and Fire Safety. This week, they published a ‘clarified version’ of Approved Document B.

The new version is simplified, uses less jargon and is written in plain English. It now means that building owners can easily follow and understand the requirements expected of them, limiting any misunderstanding of their responsibility for the safety of residents. The document also brings together guidance for flats and houses.

While this is certainly a step in the right direction and should help building owners going forward, it’s been over two years since the Grenfell tragedy and people continue to campaign for safety in tower blocks, proving there is still so much to be done.

Last month, for the second anniversary of the Grenfell disaster, campaigners shone a spotlight on unsafe tower blocks across the country and a tower block in Newcastle was right at the centre. Messages were projected onto the blocks to highlight a genuine safety concern of residents within that building, it read: ‘2 years after Grenfell and the fire doors in this building still don’t work’. I’ve never really discussed the repercussions, or lack of, from Grenfell but I think it’s important we all speak out and keep talking. It’s the only way we’re ever going to see change. Campaigners, Grenfell United are calling for all dangerous cladding to be removed and safe fire doors, sprinklers and clear fire escapes to be installed in all blocks – is that really too much to ask for?

Residents of 12 tower blocks in Manchester are planning to sue the government for failing to protect them from fire amid rising frustration that thousands of people are still living in dangerous homes. Ministers have promised £600m to fund the removal of the type of combustible cladding that spread the fire at Grenfell, but checks since the tragedy have identified many high-rise blocks with other faults including wooden cladding and missing fire breaks, for which no public funding is yet being offered.

The government announced a ban on combustible materials for new buildings in June last year but the ban is limited only to buildings over 18m tall, meaning there is nothing in place to stop the same cladding used in Grenfell from being used in a five-story care home or building, which is terrifying.

I know that so much work has already been done and over the years Newcastle City Council alone has spent over £9m on fire doors and other fire safety measures, but if we still have buildings without fire doors then I personally don’t think enough has been done. We’ve got to keep talking about Grenfell, it’s the only way we’re ever going to see the change that is needed.

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’s wrong with retention in construction?

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

This week, the new construction minister, Andrew Stephenson, supported a crackdown on poor payment, saying that the government needs to look at restricting the use of retention.

Retentions are when an agreed percentage of payment is withheld from the contractor. The money builds throughout the project and half of the retention is usually paid on completion, with the remaining balance being paid 12 months later when any defects have been corrected. Retentions give the employer security and encourages the contractor to rectify any problems. However, for years there have been concerns over the misuse of retentions, which has had a huge impact mostly on smaller firms.

A delay in payment means the smaller firms down the project chain suffer, as they have to wait even longer to be paid. Retentions restrict cashflow and lead to a waste in valuable resource and time, often spent chasing for payments – all of which can result in a business becoming insolvent. It’s not fair that the smaller firms are penalised for being a small but that’s what tends to happen – the smaller the firm, the harder it is hit.

Earlier in the year things were finally looking up for the smaller businesses. The government announced that from September, firms that don’t pay at least 95% of undisputed invoices within 60 days face being barred from public sector contracts worth more than £5m, this will ensure the government only does business with companies who pay their suppliers on time, many of which are small businesses – finally a step in the right direction, but is it enough?

Last week at our Construction Leadership event, Andy Mitchell, co-chair of the Construction Leadership Council also stressed that the industry needs to stand up and tell the government how they can support the industry and that includes clamping down on retention clauses and fair payment. The change in payment practices goes beyond reducing the payment time, we need to be naming and shaming those who aren’t paying on time and holding them to account for what they’re doing to the industry and supply chain. There is currently no requirement for the retention fund to be protected, so if the holder of the fund becomes insolvent then the money becomes part of a general pot of money available to creditors. The lack of protection has affected around 44% of contractors who have suffered non-payment over the last three years. When big contractors fail, such as Carillion, there’s a huge knock on effect for most of the industry, with many being businesses at risk of being left out of pocket. We must reduce the likelihood of this happening, so something needs to change.

Finance is a huge problem for our industry and one I don’t think we’ve taken seriously enough in the past. It wouldn’t be accepted in any other industry, so why should ours be any different?

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.