Construction sector implements diverging strategies

25 March 2020

Despite the government declaring construction an essential sector there is still confusion and differing opinions in the board rooms of the big construction companies.

As we previously reported there have been several big name partial or full closures on the merchant and supply side. Jewsons closed all branches and switched to delivery only as did Arnold Laver. BSW Timber will be focussing solely on supplying the pallet industry and has closed down all other operations.

Howdens has closed showrooms and its two manufacturing plants but kept a cut-down operation running in its warehousing to fulfil orders already in the system.

But it is in the construction sector where widely different approaches still dominate. The government has said work can continue so long as people remain 2m apart, but critics say this is impossible to enforce.

Bovis Homes, Speller Metcalfe, Barratt Developments, Taylor Wimpey, ISG and Galliard all announced an immediate shut down with some staff remaining on site simply to make them secure and safe.

Persimmon announced that it was to cease all but essential work in housing and ‘pause’ construction on the various HS2 sites.

Redrow Homes are remaining fully operational as is Cairn Construction. "Aligned to government guidelines, construction activity continues across each of our active sites under extensive health and safety protocols," a spokesman for the firm said.

For those companies and projects closing there was further mixed approach to paying trades and contractors. The vast majority of tradespeople on large construction sites are independent contractors or supplied through agencies.

Taylor Wimpey said it had around 2,000 directly employed staff who would be supported, but had no plans for the "sizable number" of self employed freelancers on its sites.

"They are generally not actually operating for us, they are operating for a sub-contractor, so we are trying to support our subcontractors by paying them on time or in advance," said Pete Redfern, MD.

He admitted self-employed workers were the "single biggest gap" and that it was "critical" government support came through quickly.