While the Prime Minister has ordered the most significant set of restrictions on British life in living memory, it has been unclear how this should be interpreted within the construction sector.
As you know, the Government issued instruction on the closure of non-essential businesses in order to prevent the further spread of the COVID-19 virus. Many of you have called in since then to ask whether this guidance would include your own business.
It has been difficult to give a straightforward answer, as the Government is conducting press conferences in the evening in order to grab the morning headlines. This does not give time for business to absorb the information or prepare properly.
However, currently Government guidance specifically exempts “home and hardware” stores from the list of retail outlets which must close. TTF has interpreted this to cover timber and builders merchants (which, for larger firms, would often fall under the category of ‘wholesale and logistics’ in business classification and thus be outside the scope for “retail”) and as such, would argue that there is no specific compulsion for builders merchants or timber distributors to close. Again, this is at the discretion of individual business owners.
Business owners must review their own unique circumstances and, where they choose to remain operational to support construction sites which remain open, must have systems and procedures in place to protect the safety of all staff and maintain distancing requirements.
It is also clear that the Government wishes construction to continue. Robert Jenrick tweeted after Boris Johnson’s speech: “Advice for the housing, construction & building maintenance industries: If you can work from home, do so. If you are working on site, you can continue to do so. But follow Public Health England guidance on social distancing.”
It has also been pointed out by Build UK and others in the construction industry that “there have been no specific instructions to close construction sites”, and today Build UK and CLC released their Site Operating Procedures to help keep construction workers safe. Much of the advice stands for manufacturers who have chosen to remain open, including keeping distance and taking all hygiene measures.
Business who do choose to remain open must consider whether staff use private or public transport to travel to work, and it would be at the employer’s discretion as to what measures are taken here. However, the safety of your employees and wider society is paramount.
The TTF has been supporting CPA, CLC and Build UK to keep cash flowing in construction, as we believe this supply chain is vital to the wider economic health of the UK. We remain concerned for the many contractors in the industry who are yet to receive relief from Government. We also believe at times like this, builders, plumbers and other agents of commercial and domestic construction could be viewed as key workers, as they conduct essential repairs and keep our built environment safe for home and office workers alike.
We are continuing to call for sector specific advice along with our partners in the supply chain and are working to get greater clarity between conflicting messaging. In the absence of specific advice or leadership in the sector from Government, we must work to the best of our ability to employ all health measures possible and come together to ensure the safety of our employees, customers and businesses.
The TTF is working with all other trade associations in the supply chain to call on Government to keep construction moving. We will be updating members on all developments as they happen. Please make sure to maintain full open communications with your own supply chain, suppliers and customers, to ensure the smooth flow of goods. By working together, we will get through this.