UK building industry must ‘assist coronavirus war effort’, says expert

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The UK construction industry must assist the UK government and public in the coronavirus ‘war effort’ says Mike Leonard, visiting professor in manufacturing and construction at Birmingham City University

As the country faces an unprecedented health crisis, Mike Leonard has urged those in the construction industry to ‘step-up’ to play whatever roles will help, as we all go to war to defeat Covid-19.

Leonard, said: “We are all facing an unprecedented health crisis, which will result in a huge number of premature deaths and the collapse of many thousands of businesses in the construction sector alone.

“At this time our only priority must be to save lives and the wider construction industry will step-up to play whatever roles will help, as we all go to war to defeat Covid-19.

“We have lorries, premises and skilled staff all ready to take on new tasks to help look after our people, as we fight the war against this invisible enemy.”

Calm before the storm

He added: “The UK construction industry is currently going through the calm before the storm, manufacturers of building materials are experiencing higher than usual demand as merchants, home builders and contractors try and get ahead of the curve and secure supplies.

“The outdoor nature of the industry makes it safer than other sectors to carry on at the moment as evidenced by the diggers in full swing, busily carrying out the enabling works for HS2.

“As the threat increases and we move at speed towards a now inevitable complete lockdown, construction will progressively close down. The budget hotels, the weekday home for so many travelling construction workers, will shut, demand for new homes will evaporate and the home extension and maintenance markets will cease to function.

“We will be left with only essential workers, ensuring our emergency services can continue to operate and supporting the neediest, such as those with heating failures and water leaks.”

Economic interventions

Leonard added: “The industry is very grateful for the unprecedented economic interventions so far, but much more needs to be done, particularly for the huge army of self-employed workers who make up the majority of the construction workforce.

“It is vital that we retain our skilled workers and keep as many as possible of our businesses solvent and continued Government support offers the only credible route to achieving this objective.

“As we eventually emerge from this crisis, the time will come to rebuild our economy and get people back into work. The solution, as has been the case for past economic shocks, will be to ‘Get Britain Building’, which has a massive multiplier effect.

“Research carried out by Dr Steve McCabe of Birmingham City University and the Building Alliance, illustrates that fulfilling the plan to build 215,000 West Midlands homes between now and 2031 would generate a £39bn uplift to the West Midlands economy.

“This multiplier is a direct result of the use of British manufactured building materials, merchants and local labour. If we use offsite and modular buildings fabricated outside of the West Midlands, using imported raw materials, the multiplier simply does not work and the opportunity to create jobs and inclusive economic growth is lost.

“The construction industry is known for its resilience, in the short term, our focus must be on saving lives as things look set to become much worse before they get better.

“We must also use the time constructively to plan for the recovery and provide the economic bounce the country will so badly need. This may include “oven-ready schemes” to improve our 26 million homes, discount programmes to attract first time home purchaser’s and fast track schemes to train new entrants to the industry.”

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