01/11/18 Final Budget before Brexit

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

On Monday, Chancellor Philip Hammond announced his latest Autumn budget, the last before Brexit. Within it was plenty of news for the industry, with housing, apprentices and infrastructure all being mentioned, but being announced so close to Halloween, did he deliver a trick or a treat for the industry?

The Chancellor announced that the government have committed an extra £500m of funding to the Housing Infrastructure Fund, which is expected to unlock 650,000 new homes. Although £291m of which is set to go to London, that’s still over half to be shared around the rest of the country – fingers crossed for some for the North East. He said the fund would receive a £38bn boost by 2023/24. I’m not usually the pessimist but that’s a lot of money in a short space of time, so I won’t hold my breath on that just yet. He also announced that the Letwin Review, the investigation into why the UK isn’t building enough homes, recommends reforming the planning system to speed up building, but there are no plans to act upon the suggestion – another case of all talk and no action.

Controversial PFI and PF2 contracts, under which private companies provide public services and infrastructure, are to be completely abolished. All existing contracts under the PFI and PF2 system will be honoured but Hammond said he would never sign off on a PFI contract.

Addressing the newly introduced Apprenticeship Levy, the Chancellor confirmed that smaller firms who train apprentices would have their contribution to the apprenticeship levy halved, falling from 10% to 5%. Apprenticeship starts have plummeted over the last year following the introduction of costs to small firms who want to get young people into work. Dropping the proportion of apprenticeship training costs footed by small firms is a much-needed development which should lead to even more apprenticeship starts.

The Budget briefly, and I mean briefly, mentioned how Brexit will affect the industry, stating that “The government will review its existing support for infrastructure finance, to ensure that it continues to meet market needs as the UK leaves the EU.”
Overall, it was a Budget that made some small adjustments but

lacked bold, long-term commitments, which I think we all expected. While austerity may be coming to an end, it certainly hasn’t ended. While we might have been promised less potholes in the road, with Brexit looming, I think we’re all in for a bumpy year ahead.

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.

25/10/18 Preserving historic buildings is more sustainable than building new ones

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

In the North East we are lucky to have such a rich history. Whilst our historic environments and buildings are undoubtedly fantastic to look at and explore, they contain within them knowledge and evidence of skills from centuries ago. Which is why rebuilding, restoring, maintaining and upgrading sites and buildings of historical importance is essential to understanding our nation’s heritage. As an industry we have a responsibility to help people to enjoy and learn from these environments now and preserve them for future generations.

We’re often talking about how the industry has upped its game in terms of technology over the last few years, but for almost every piece of new tech, there are energy-efficiency lessons to be learned from historical buildings. Existing buildings can often be energy efficient through their use of good ventilation, durable materials and spatial relationships. Before air conditioning, structures used passive environmental control from cross-ventilation windows to shutters and bricks that helped keep out the sun. The high thermal mass of stone, as seen in most Victorian buildings, retains warmth in winter and cools in summer. When properly renovated or restored, old buildings can use less energy than modern buildings, even those that are ‘sustainable’. We must ensure we learn from the past and use appropriate methods and materials to secure their future in the most sustainable way. Preservation and restoration are the ultimate form of recycling. It helps reduce waste and ensures that buildings work in the way in which they were designed.

Here at Constructing Excellence, we understand the importance of preserving and maintaining historic assets. It’s an important part of protecting the character of a city, making it an attractive place to live, work and visit. Which is why we dedicate an award to the Preservation and Rejuvenation of buildings each year at our Constructing Excellence North East Awards. The category is one that holds a special place in my heart as it focuses on restoring and preserving the history and culture of the region, something I’m very passionate about.

We are hosting a breakfast briefing on Wednesday 7 November, looking at the restoration of North East buildings and structures. The event will feature speakers from Sunderland City Council, Datim Building Contractors and Space Architects looking at the restoration of Roker Pier, Lindisfarne Castle and the Darlington Hippodrome; some of the biggest restoration projects in the North East in the last couple of years. All three cases studies were shortlisted at our awards earlier in the year, with Lindisfarne Castle winning, Darlington Hippodrome taking away the highly commended award and Roker Pier receiving a Special Award.

To register for this event please contact Grace on 0191 500 7880 or email grace@cene.org.uk

18/10/18 Drugs and alcohol on site

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

Over recent years, alcohol and drugs misuse has been an increasing issue in the industry and although the majority of contractors and suppliers now say that they carry out regular tests, it seems that there’s still an issue, although we’re lacking data to back it up.

It goes without saying that when working in the industry, concentration, co-ordination and being of sound mind is critical to both the safety and success of a project.  Accidents caused by impairment or intoxication can be detrimental to the health of workers, but also to the reputation of the workers and company. Implementing a drug and alcohol policy and enforcing it with drug and alcohol screening is one of the only ways to reduce these risks. Due to the large machinery and tools used in a construction project, there are few industries where health and safety is more important.

A survey carried out last year by the Considerate Constructors Scheme (CCS) revealed that despite 35% of people saying they had noticed colleagues under the influence of drugs and alcohol during working hours, 65% said that they had never been screened or tested for either by their employer. I’m sure most employers are aware of the risks, but maybe they aren’t sure what to do about it? The CCS has launched a new programme to help employers tackle drug and alcohol issues in the industry. The organisation has launched an online Drugs and Alcohol course focusing on how contractors, subcontractors, suppliers and clients can take practical and effective measures to protect their employees. The course aims to provide a platform for the industry to learn about the risks as well as methods to manage them and support those who need it. After taking the lessons online, companies can take a quiz. If they answer more than 70% of questions correctly they will pass the course and receive a certificate.

What does worry me is that the only piece of major research on how the industry is affected by drugs and alcohol is now over 2 years old. The figures were alarming enough back in 2016, but now we don’t know whether the issue is getting better or worse. Without new figures it’s unlikely that people will take action. Just last month, Barratt Developments announced they had introduced random drugs and alcohol tests as a way of focussing more on health and safety after their injury rate increased by more than a fifth last year. It’s time for the industry to take control of drugs and alcohol on site, but I do believe we need more figures and data to know where action is needed. Until then, I think we need to make sure we’re all doing the best we can to ensure health and safety on site is a top priority.

The CCS online course is available on the CCS Best Practice hub and offers lessons on drugs and alcohol in the workplace and what can be done to address misuse.

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.

11/10/18 How freelance construction effects the industry

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

A Freedom of Information request recently revealed that 1.12 million construction workers were paid via the Construction Industry Scheme (CIS) in 2017/18. A 4% increase on the figures for 2016/17, indicating self-employment is on the rise.

The subject of self-employment has been the cause of many industry discussions over the past few years, with several debates over whether freelancers are helping or hindering the industry. I think self-employed workers can help the industry by relieving companies of the pressures of meeting deadlines and recruiting new workers, however, as an industry we must ensure our whole workforce is treated fairly and with respect.

A flexible workforce is a great way for companies to meet project demands. With government targets approaching, companies need to be able to hire the right number of people, with the right skills, at the right stage of the project and using freelancers can help them to do this. Using self employed workers can also help boost productivity. With full-time employees, specialist work can be slow and expensive, whilst taking on freelancers means companies can use people with highly-specialised skills and also avoid unused downtime, which can result in huge savings on labour costs.

Sadly, false self-employment is always going to be an issue which adversely impacts individuals and, importantly, the reputation of our industry. There are a number of reasons some companies claim people are falsely self-employed; National Insurance Contributions (NICs) can be avoided and individuals can also make tax savings. However, self-employed people lose their right to sick pay, holiday pay and pension contributions which can create inequalities in the way people working alongside each other are treated.

Ask anybody from the industry and most will be able to give you an example of a contractor who has been hauled to an employment tribunal facing a claim for employment rights from a supposedly self-employed contractor. There have also been concerns about companies using the uncertainties around the rules to exploit workers, disguising the true nature of a contract and unfairly leaving the worker without proper benefits or payment. It has rightly been labelled a ‘con’ by some people, with the union Unite declaring that the government has failed to reduce such bogus self-employment which is very worrying. The rules surrounding self-employment need to be made clear and although there are a few who exploit the uncertainty, there are many who simply don’t know where they stand.

Freelance construction workers seem to be increasingly in demand, due to a ‘pay per project or task’ model now being used by many employers. Offering the chance for more flexibility and increased productivity, freelancers look set to play a vital role in the industry in the future. With nearly half of workers already being classified as self-employed, self-employment is going to have an effect on the future of the industry, therefore we must ensure the regulations around self-employment are made clear to everyone.

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.

4/10/18 – Getting comfortable with BIM

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

It’s been over 2 years since the government’s Building Information Model (BIM) mandate came into effect. From 4 April 2016, the collaborative use of BIM Level 2 in all government procured buildings became mandatory, with all asset information relating to a project becoming electronically shareable in a common environment – which basically means that projects using Level 2 BIM, at a minimum, are using 3D CAD models that have been developed by each design team and then these models must be shared in a common file format.

BIM has been identified as a key enabler on the construction sector’s journey to becoming a truly digital industry. Despite this, how to get started with BIM still remains unclear for a lot of industry professionals.

So, what is BIM? BIM is an intelligent 3D model-based process that provides architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) professionals the insight and tools to more effectively plan, design, construct, and manage buildings and infrastructure. If refers to a collaborative method of working which is based on the generation and exchange of data and information between the various project parties. It allows more intelligent use of resources, optimisation of workflows and leads to productivity and profitability. It allows all interested parties to assess the same information at the same time, whether you’re on site or at a desk. All in all, leading to better outcomes through more effective communication and collaboration – a win win!

If you don’t know where to start or feel you’ve been left behind, The Charted Institute of Building (CIOB) North East, in association with Constructing Excellence in the North East and BIM Strategy, are hosting an event designed to close the knowledge gap and make BIM easier for businesses in the North East to both adopt and benefit from. The daylong event will:

  • Focus on several key BIM projects
  • Explore and share knowledge and experience of using BIM
  • Help you really understand what BIM Level 2 means in practice
  • Look at how to use BIM concepts from the perspective of; clients, project teams, facilities management
  • Identify where to find world-leading expertise here in the North East.

The event will have key speakers from clients and industry covering all aspects of the BIM journey from project inception to FM including; John Adams, BIM Strategy, Iain Garfield, Newcastle University, Simon Lewis, Womble Bond Dickinson and Graham Kelly from BIM Academy.

The event is ideal for those in the industry who are looking to adopt BIM into their organisation or for those who want to progress with BIM and aren’t sure where to go. There’s no need to panic, BIM really isn’t as scary as you think.

For more information or to book your place for this event please contact Leanne Conaway on 0191 500 7880 or leanne@cene.org.uk.

The importance of a diverse, supported and happy workforce

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

Constructing Excellence (CE) has teamed up with Balfour Beatty to create an initiative to get more women in construction to director level and beyond.

There is a clear move towards embracing inclusion and demolishing stereotypes within the industry at the minute. The industry needs people from different personal and professional backgrounds, bringing new and innovative ideas.  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. There’s lots of focus on getting women into the industry and the number of women joining the industry has increased over the last 10 years, but it’s time to look at retention and progression and ensuring women have equal opportunity to progress within the industry in accordance with their ability and desire, basically to get to where they want to be. Why shouldn’t they?

The initiative, which will be led by CE will aim to create a blueprint for firms to help them retain women engineers into their 30s and 40s and support their return to work after career breaks. It’s not just a North East issue, it’s something that needs to be looked at across the whole industry, nationwide. We’re not looking at recruiting young or unemployed people, it’s time to target the people who are often overlooked, the 30 something female industry workers and turn them into directors, CEOs and leaders.

We need a talented workforce diverse in gender, age, race, values, experience etc. Diverse perspectives are how we supress tendencies and old-fashioned ways of thinking. It reduces the risk of groupthink and is how things move forward. Without diversity, we’d struggle with productivity, especially with how fast things are moving with technology at the minute. We desperately need new ideas and different ways of doing things whether that be construction methods, materials or management styles.

It’s common sense that people work better when they’re happy, and inclusive working environments bring a wealth of benefits to everyone. By creating a positive, safe and healthy workplace, you’ll see a boost in morale, improve your employees’ work-life balance, increase employee engagement and, in turn, positively impact your business. In any industry, the desire is to have a healthy, productive workforce and construction is no different. We all want to work somewhere where we feel comfortable, safe and valued, and when we do, that’s where we’ll thrive.

On Wednesday (3 October), we’re delighted to be hosting the 2018 North East Construction Summit – Driving the Need for Change which will focus on increasing productivity and addressing contributing factors. The importance of an industry culture change resulting in a happier, more diverse workforce will therefore feature strongly.

For more information on the event please contact Leanne Conaway, on 0191 500 7880 or email leanne@cene.org.uk.

The government’s school building plan – are we on track to hit targets?



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

As the schools go back after the Summer and the traffic on a morning gets much busier, I’ve been thinking of the government’s plans for school buildings and whether we’re on track to hit the targets set.

Think back to 2015 when the government set aside £23bn to pay for school building and refurbishment programmes up to 2021. They were originally designed to fix the £6.7bn problem of school disrepair and tackle the challenge of creating hundreds of thousands of new pupil places to meet forecast demand. However, we’re now at the half way point and many fear that the pace is slowing and we’re not on plan to hit the target.

The government’s response to claims that they’re not on track was that they’ve already created an additional 825,000 school places and are on target to deliver another million in the next two years. The government had also set the target of 500 free schools in its 2017 manifesto and we’re still waiting on the education secretary, Damian Hinds, to speak about Wave 13 publicly. The old saying goes ‘no news is good news’, but that doesn’t seem to apply here. Silence leads to speculation, which is never a good thing, especially when there is evidence that work is coming forward slower than expected. For example, last year’s government construction and infrastructure pipeline predicted approximately £5bn would be spent in 2017/18 on school’s capital, £1bn more than ultimately was spent therefore supporting the view that spending did not come forward as hoped.

Then there’s the Priority School Building Programme (PSBP) covering 537 schools, which should be well into the second phase of delivering 277 schools by 2021. A departmental source said the drop in capital spend last year was due to the winding-down of the first phase of the PSBP, which has now built 237 of the promised 260 schools.  In the PSBP, the industry was doing hundreds of schools a year sometimes, but PSBP2 is much more of a slow burn. At this stage that should equate to about 80 projects a year, but Building Magazine have announced that the figures they have seen are well below that. If phase two is proving slow, what does that mean for plans post 2021? Will there be a phase three?

There are lots of questions left unanswered and given the government’s silence on many things, I suspect many people will be expecting answers in the chancellor’s 2019 Spring Statement. The industry is already nervous pre-Brexit, so I think we deserve some indication from the government on the way things are going.

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.

13/09/18 Mental Health in the Industry


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

Health and Safety has always been one of the main focuses in the industry, but there’s often debates over which is more important. There are many physical risks that come with working in the industry, but lately there’s been such an emphasis on mental health and how important it is to speak out that everyone has finally realised just how important it is.

This week, the Duke of Cambridge announced plans to launch an online initiative to support mental health in the workplace, offering employees training, information and resources to promote positive mental wellbeing. Created alongside mental health charity Mind, the Mental Health at Work project will act as a web portal that will help managers to support staff who may be struggling. It comes after a study by Mind revealed that 48% of British workers have experienced a mental health problem in their current job. The survey of 44,000 employees also found that only half of those who had experienced poor mental health at work had spoken to their employer about it – suggesting that sadly, 25% of UK workers are struggling in silence.

Here, at Constructing Excellence, we do lots to help improve the health, safety and wellbeing of workers in the industry. Last year we raised money for The Lighthouse Club Construction Industry Charity at our Constructing Excellence North East Awards and raised over £4000. The charity is the only charity that provides financial and emotional support to the construction community and their families who have suffered an injury or long-term illness or simply need a helping hand. The charity also funds and manages a 24/7 Construction Industry Helpline which is the first point of contact for those who need free and confidential support services.

We work in an industry where we all need to work together to change the stigma relating to mental health, which is why the Mental Health at Work project and charities like the Lighthouse Club are so important. The charity receives no public funding and relies on the generosity of those within in the industry, which is why we’re more than happy to be supporting their charity golf day on September 20, next week. The annual North East Lighthouse Construction Charity golf event is attended by regional and national contractors based in the North East. Without events like this and continued regional and national support, the charity would be unable to offer help and assistance to those that need it, at a time when it might be needed most.

You don’t have to be suicidal to call Samaritans, they’re simply there to help. Anyone can call for free any time from any phone on 116 123 and the number will not appear on your phone bill. Alternatively, call the Construction Industry Helpline on 0345 605 1956 or visit the newly formed buildingmentalhealth.net, both of which are fantastic outlets to support the industry we work 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.

6/9/18 Will construction be human-free in the next 10 years?


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

For a long time, construction was one of the least automated industries around, but we’re slowly but surely catching up. Digital solutions are being used in all areas of the industry. We’re moving away from paper trails and manual building and towards online solutions, new technology and robots that can do the job for us.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is an area of computer science that emphasizes the creation of intelligent machines that work and react like humans. AI can be used for; speech recognition, learning, planning and problem solving. The use of AI has increased massively over the last few years and has been implemented into the construction sector to bring about advancements in both productivity and health and safety.

The use of technology can improve the level of health and safety within the industry, a priority for many years, which is why I think the use of technology has finally been accepted by once hesitant employers. For example, AI technology and scanning software can track the body movement of bricklayers to analyse their form in order to reduce the amount of injuries on-site. AI also lends itself to face recognition to ensure complete safety and to authorise qualified professionals.

While AI and technology bring quicker, safer and cheaper methods to the industry, there’s also the fear that its ability to replicate human work can lead to dramatic job losses and impact the current workforce. Contradictory to that, there’s also the argument that AI and technology is helping productivity by completing tasks that are proving difficult due to the shortfall in human workers.

With the amount of AI in the industry, many have predicted a decline in human workforce and think we’ll be looking at a human-free construction force post 2025. We’re still struggling with a skills shortage, with research suggesting we need to recruit over 400,000 workers each year until 2021 to keep up with demand, that’s a lot of work, even for a robot, so an almost human-free workforce by 2025 seems near enough impossible to me. The ultimate goal is to make construction more productive, cost effective and safer. There’s no intention to completely remove the need for humans. I agree, we’re moving at a good pace when it comes to technology but personally I don’t think it will move that fast. For now, the industry as we know it still needs workers and there’s plenty of room for both AI and humans.

On 3 October, we’re delighted to be hosting the 2018 North East Construction Summit – Driving the Need for Change. The summit will focus on increasing productivity and addressing contributing factors including; leadership, innovation, industry culture, supply chains and best practice. There will be speakers from a number of organisations in the industry, including Ben Lever, Future Skills and Innovation Lead at the Construction Industry Training Board who will be further discussing the skills needs in digital-led construction.

For more information on the North East Construction Summit, please contact Leanne Conaway, on 0191 500 7880 or email leanne@cene.org.uk.

30/08/2018 – The Value of Apprenticeships

At Constructing Excellence in the North East, we love nothing more than celebrating young people and ensuring opportunities for them continue to grow in the construction industry.

Apprenticeships give young people hands-on experience and the opportunity to gain qualifications whilst learning skills and gaining industry knowledge. They are a great combination of on- and off-site learning and experience, guided by tutors or mentors. I love seeing the entries fly in each year for the Apprentice of the Year category in our Generation for Change (G4C) Awards. Each year we get more than the last, proving that apprenticeships are on the rise with more companies finally realising the benefits of employing apprentices.

Construction, Engineering and Manufacturing, Planning and the Built Environment are within the top five sectors for apprenticeship starts. In the 2016/17, our industry had 21,000 new starts and the Engineering and Manufacturing sector had 74,000. Apprenticeships are a way of futureproofing the UK workforce, particularly in our sector where there is a skills shortage, so it is pleasing to see that real progress is being made.

A career in construction can be seriously rewarding to both the employee and the employer. According to the latest research by the Federation of Master Builders (FMB), apprentices in the industry will go on to earn thousands of pounds more than many of their university-educated equivalents. Also, because the industry is in the midst of a skills shortage and the government has such an ambitious house building target, we need to commit to recruiting and training the right people to be anywhere near reaching the targets set. Thankfully, success for apprenticeships is anticipated to keep growing as the new apprenticeship levy that was introduced last year brings with it a new way of funding apprenticeship programmes. Whilst some employers have snubbed it as just being ‘another tax’, both large and small employers can benefit from the fund. It is designed to cover apprentice training fees and is open to all apprenticeship courses, including higher level courses meaning that 90% of apprenticeship training costs are funded by the government.

National Apprenticeship Week, which takes place in March and the Apprenticeship Levy have raised awareness of apprenticeships across the UK. Despite the progress we’ve been making and the huge skills shortage, many employers are still only scratching the surface of what they could be doing to use apprenticeships to attract new people to join the industry. To ensure everyone knows what apprenticeships are, the benefits of employing apprenticeships and the support that is available, Constructing Excellence in the North East are hosting a breakfast seminar on 10 October to provide insight into everything you need to know. If you still have reservations, come along and find out exactly how apprenticeships can help you and your organisation.