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.

Intelligent procurement – it can be achieved

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

Everyone knows how hard the industry, particularly the North East, was hit during the recession, when changes to public sector procurement and the creation of single-sourced frameworks resulted in many companies being excluded from tendering, often on turnover alone.

Although frameworks were sold to government as a chance to save money, this approach has since been shown to be flawed in many areas.  Even now, we don’t need to look far to see evidence of misguided procurement practice resulting in companies simply running out of cash. When decision-making is based on lowest cost/minimum regulatory requirements it can be a recipe for disaster, taking no account of future costs.

It was great to see a huge turnout once again at our annual Constructing Excellence Awards. It just shows how much support the industry has, especially here in the North East. Construction Alliance NorthEast has always been a huge supporter of CENE and I am pleased to hear it is making an impact on regional procurement outcomes.

CAN launched in 2016 to primarily address the issues surrounding fairer procurement, it aims to create a more level playing field for regional SME contractors when tendering for public sector work.  Their reasoning is that the more contracts awarded to regional contractors, the better it is for the long-term future of the sector and a more sustainable industry generally. For me, it makes complete sense.

So, when North East Procurement Organisation (NEPO) began working on its documentation for its next Building Construction Works framework a couple of years ago, CAN worked closely with NEPO to ensure that local companies were not filtered out at an early stage in the process. Instead of turnover, they encouraged NEPO to focus on other key areas such as added social value; the creation of different value bands, up to £2m, between £2m-£5m and over £5m – companies only being allowed to bid for either the high or low bands, not both.

One year after the successful bidders were announced, I am delighted to see that out of almost £30m worth of contracts already tendered, local companies have picked up a significant share of the work, including wins by CAN members, Brims and Esh.  Most importantly, regional companies now account for 70% of those on the framework and they are also able to bid for a further £34m of imminent pipeline contracts, plus further work in the future.

 

This all goes to show that when effective collaboration takes place, intelligent procurement results. Thanks to the willingness of NEPO to collaborate and be open to advice, a shift in procurement policy was possible. We need more of this to ensure a healthy construction industry in the North East – it CAN be achieved!

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.

National Women in Engineering Day

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

National Women in Engineering Day (NWED), which takes place next Sunday, highlights the opportunities available for women in engineering. The event takes place every year on 23 June and aims to raise the profile of women in engineering across the world. It’s your chance to get involved with this year’s theme of #TransformTheFuture.

Even though the engineering industry is now more diverse than ever before, there is still plenty of work to be done to boost female uptake and essentially, Transform the Future. Only 11% of the engineering workforce is female and while I’d love that number to be much higher, it is still an improvement on previous years so things are getting better, just much slower than we would like.

The UK shockingly has the lowest percentage of female engineers in Europe and as it stands, this isn’t set to rise any time soon. The UK needs to significantly increase its number of engineers. The STEM skills shortage is costing businesses £1.5bn in recruitment every year. For the engineering sector to reduce its skills shortage, it needs to employ around 186,000 recruits each year until 2024.

 

There is a clear move towards embracing inclusion and demolishing stereotypes within the industry at the minute. There are initiatives and people are working towards encouraging more women into the industry, but we could and need to be doing more if we’re to get anywhere near getting the recruits the industry needs in the next five years, not to mention the fact that a gender diverse workforce drives innovation and improves business.  We need to make sure we’re promoting the industry to women when they are still at college and encourage them to take STEM subjects is another way forward. The engineering industry is exciting and has so much to offer, so we need to ensure that this message is getting out to schools and to the wider public.

This year we’re celebrating 100 years of the Women’s Engineering Society, a charity and professional network of female engineers, scientists and technologists. The charity supports and inspires women to achieve their goals in the industry, encouraging education and supporting companies with gender diversity and inclusion. That’s 100 years of challenging stereotypes and encouraging women into higher positions; the fight has been going on since long before many of us even realised there was an issue.

With the skills shortage at a high, we’ve realised we’re in no position to be looking at anything other than level of skill and potential when recruiting workers, we need people from all backgrounds. Equality and inclusion should be a priority in every business, and we’re certainly working hard to ensure that this industry is no 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

Investing in our workers

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

The Construction Leadership Council’s (CLC) Skills Workstream last week published its Future Skills Report, urging contractors to hire more employees directly.

According to the report, industry workers do not receive enough training and the best way to tackle this issue is for contractors to hire more people directly. I think we all share the same concerns over the future skills shortage and the report expands on this. Given that 30% of the workforce is set to retire over the next ten years and the end to Freedom of Movement after Brexit is looming, I think it’s only right to be concerned. Thankfully, the report has put forward actions to make sure the industry doesn’t suffer.

The report calls for clients to agree a code of employment where those who contribute to a project are directly employed. That way, it’s in the employer’s best interest to train staff and benefit from their improved productivity. This echoes the 2016 construction strategy report which said the sector suffers from fragmentation, pointing out that 99% of construction businesses are SMEs. This is long overdue. Direct employment not only improves productivity, it reduces accidents and helps ensure workers are trained correctly. This needs to be the beginning of tackling the hire and fire culture which currently distorts the reputation of the industry.

The report also wants smart construction methods to be encouraged through early design and procurement processes, promoting the use of digital technology and advanced manufacturing techniques. This will create the demand for skilled employees which will hopefully drive employers to invest in training appropriate to the emerging skills and construction processes. Industry qualifications and training should be updated to include skills associated with new construction methods. It’s the only way to ensure the workforce and industry is equipped for the future.

It’s no secret that there are a number of challenges facing the industry, many of which will get worse after Brexit, but we need to ensure we’re taking actions and doing all that we can to avoid the skills shortage being so significant in the future.

Research shows that projects with higher levels of direct employment often work better, the workforce is more engaged, and the client tends to be happier with the final product. The industry is changing, we all know that. We’ve accepted new construction methods and are getting to grips with offsite manufacturing. We just need to invest more in our people, ensuring they have the right training to see us through the next decade, which I personally think might be our most challenging yet.

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.

World Environment Day – climate change and the industry

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

Yesterday we celebrated World Environment Day to encourage awareness and action on protecting the environment. Because of what we do, our industry has the potential to cause a lot of damage but that also means we also have huge potential to make a difference on protecting the environment.

 

We are always thinking of new innovative ways of being efficient and we’ve really stepped up our game in the last few years. Offsite construction is now becoming more common, we’ve got PopUp Houses, plastic roads, even a ‘bubble’ building here in Newcastle, all of which are playing a part.

 

Last week, major contractors were among more than 120 business leaders who wrote to the prime minister to urge the government to adopt a target for net-zero greenhouse gas emissions in the UK by 2050. Skanska, Cundall and Willmott Dixon were among those who signed the letter to the PM. The letter highlighted how many companies were adopting more energy efficient practices and setting their own net-zero targets. I think what the letter shows, is that the climate crisis is becoming such an issue that it’s now being discussed in boardrooms with more and more businesses calling for a net zero carbon country. Given that the built environment, including construction and property, contributes 40% of the UK’s carbon footprint, I’m so happy to see so many industry professionals signing this letter.

 

The UK Green Building Council’s new report aims to build a consensus about the actions we need to take, looking at whole-life carbon impacts of both new and existing homes and buildings. Previously, zero carbon policies focused only on operational energy and modelled performance in new buildings, so this is a significant change. However, currently a building’s energy status isn’t based on the materials used during construction and that’s what we need to change. While the aesthetics of a building are still important, we need to consider the materials we’re using and their wider impact. We need more recycled and manufactured materials used in a way that’s environmentally friendly.

Changes are happening. People are finally taking responsibility in how they work and their efforts to tackle the climate crisis. We’re looking at new building methods, new materials and technologies – all of which can reduce emissions. Skanska has pledged to become a carbon-neutral business by 2045 and other businesses have committed to a net-zero or net-negative carbon pathway. We made history by becoming the first country to introduce a legally binding framework for tackling climate change when The Climate Change Act received royal assent in 2008, I say why stop there?

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 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