ONS construction output data a ray of hope for the industry?

THE ONS today published UK construction output data suggesting that December's clear election result, adding more certainty to Brexit, may be helping the industry to turn a corner.

Gareth Belsham, director of the national property consultancy and surveyors Naismiths, commented: “Fragile confidence, weak demand and contractors running out of orders – it’s all there. Rising output in infrastructure and commercial construction was tempered by a contraction in private sector housebuilding.

“Yet the month-on-month increase, which jumped to 1.9% – the highest level since January 2019 – gives a hint of the rebound that has followed the election. Such a clear election result and an end – for now – to Brexit uncertainty have helped the industry to reset. The return of clarity, if not yet unbridled confidence, is prompting many developers who spent 2019 sitting on their hands to pull the trigger in 2020.

“The industry is far from back to health, but in the space of less than a month, its newfound sense of purpose is starting to make these November figures seem very distant. The questions now will be how long the Boris bounce can sustain, and whether the capacity-cutting of last year will hamper contractors’ ability to cope with a rise in demand.”

Meanwhile, The Federation of Master Builders (FMB) said that the Chancellor must use the upcoming Budget to slash the rate of VAT on repair and maintenance work and to invest in the construction sector in order to maintain the industry’s recovery.

Brian Berry, chief executive of the FMB, said: “While 2019 was a year marked by political and economic uncertainty, there does seem to be some small signs of hope for the construction industry, with the largest monthly growth in the industry seen in November since the start of the year. It is too soon to tell whether this will be a longer term trend, as some sectors such as private house building and repair and maintenance continue to see sluggish growth.”

“The upcoming Budget provides the perfect opportunity for the Government to help ensure this positive trend at the end of 2019 continues into the new decade. In order to help boost the industry, the Chancellor should prioritise cutting VAT on home improvement works, so that tax isn’t a barrier to homeowners upgrading the energy efficiency of their properties. The Government should also use the Budget as an opportunity invest in construction skills to help build the homes and infrastructure we need, and invest in planning departments to ensure the planning system doesn’t act as a blockage to the Government’s ambitious housing targets.”

Obituary feature: John Twallin

JOHN Twallin, who died on December 14, was the driving force behind the creation and growth of the tools and hardware distributor Toolbank, and of its parent company, the Dormole group.

John Twallin (or JT as he was affectionately known) was effectively born into the tool trade: he was a direct descendant of Ann Buck and her son John Roe Hickman, who together founded the tool distributor Buck & Hickman in London in the mid 19th century.

Following national service, which included qualification as a Russian interpreter, John joined Buck & Hickman in the early 1950s and rose to become purchasing director. In late 1971, however, the firm fell victim to a hostile takeover bid, and the new owners told him his services were no longer required and he could leave at the end of the week.

Arthur Clemson, Buck & Hickman’s sales director, was unimpressed with the new owners and the way the family had been treated. “If I had my time again,” he told John, “I would start on my own”; and together they planned the launch of a midlands-based wholesale tool distributor with a crucial difference from Buck & Hickman: they would sell only to the retail trade, not to end-users. They re-mortgaged their houses, and with a loan from John’s mother, set up CA Clemson & Sons. Clemsons opened for business on February 28 1972, achieving sales of £204,000 and net profit of just £1,056 in its first year. 

It was clear that the new business would not initially be able to support both of them, so John took a job with the engineers’ merchants Thomas P Headland; and while still working there he was introduced to Curtis Holt, a small tool wholesaler in Kent. Curtis Holt MD David Lister could see the potential benefits of having Buck & Hickman’s former purchasing director on board, and appointed John as a non-executive director in December 1971. Then early in 1974, David Lister invited John and Arthur to buy him out. They didn’t have the cash, but persuaded Lister and the other Curtis Holt shareholders to take loan stock, repayable over five years. An off-the-shelf company, Dormole, was used to complete the purchase, and John became chairman with Arthur as MD.

Over the following 45 years, Dormole grew to become the UK’s leading distributor of hand tools and power tools to the hardware trade, to builders merchants, and later to the fast-growing online market. Early expansion included opening branches in south Wales, Norwich (under the noses of rivals RCF, who were planning a move in the same territory), Bradford, and Southampton.

But the emphasis was never on sheer size. The 1979 catalogue spelled out the ethos of the business: “We do not wish to give anyone the impression of great size, for great size does not add anything to the efficiency of a distributive unit. We aim to be considered as small but efficient companies, servicing local areas but strengthening each other through our association together.” John believed deeply in letting the branch managers run their branches, and fostered a policy of branch autonomy which continued as the group grew. Having the stock was a vital point, too: “Stock was the basis on which our business was founded,” John recalled much later. “We weren’t great businessmen, but we did know that the only way to get business was to have the stock.”

The Toolbank brand was registered in 1979, but at trade shows in the early 1980s the company was still exhibiting as Curtis Holt and Clemsons, sub-titled ‘The Tool Bank Group of Companies’. It was not until the 1984 edition of the catalogue was published – the first of many Big Blue Books – that the Toolbank name appeared as a national brand for the first time, and definitively as a single word.

More expansion followed: the Exeter branch opened in 1980, and in 1981 the group acquired a garden machinery business called Godfreys – later sold to a management buy-out. The same year, John was tipped off that rival distributor PTS was in talks to buy the Glasgow wholesaler Finnie & Co. His buccaneering instinct came to the fore – he and Arthur flew to Scotland and a deal was agreed within two weeks. “So quickly, in fact, that Finnie’s agreement came through on the very same day as we got approval from the Midland Bank, on whose support we had rather irresponsibly been relying,” said John. Dennis Lloyd, his financial advisor, was less than impressed: “Don’t you ever do that to me again,” he said.

Expansion continued through the 1980s: the launch of the Hand Tool Distributors operation, servicing DIY superstore customers; the acquisition of Rees Jones in Warrington and the opening of the north London branch in Bushey; the acquisition of a minority shareholding in the French wholesaler Denuziere; the start of a daily delivery service, initially from the Bushey branch; the launch of the XMS Christmas promotion; and the successful re-launch of the Faithfull brand. Amid all this, Arthur Clemson retired in 1985, and thereafter John drove the business forward at the head of a team of long-serving and trusted colleagues.

The 1990s saw the creation of a national warehouse for slower-moving specialist lines, freeing up space in the branches and reducing the group’s overall stock level without impairing availability. But it was also in the 1990s that John fought his biggest battle, after the power tool maker Bosch, which accounted for 25% of Toolbank’s turnover, abruptly ended their 10-year trading relationship. In the absence of a formal written contract – John was a firm believer in the weight of a handshake – Bosch refused to accept that their action had been in breach of the gentlemen’s agreement. It took four years of legal argument, including a period of several months when John was seriously ill, before Toolbank’s claim was settled, the day before the case was due to come to court.

In the meantime, Toolbank had successfully replaced the Bosch range with other brands; and a successful and amicable trading relationship was re-established some years later when Dormole acquired a majority shareholding in the specialist power tools distributor Biz, which included Bosch in its range.

Following his illness, John decided to take a step back from the day-to-day management of the group. A Toolbank management board was set up with Andrew Strong as CEO, and John focused on his role as chairman of the Dormole parent board, although for many years afterwards he continued to play an active part in trading matters.

In 1995, the company unveiled Toolbank Express, the first significant step taken by a UK tool wholesaler towards a coherent online proposition, and which would evolve into Toolbank.com a few years later; and in 1997 it opened its first accounts with stockists in the Republic of Ireland. Profits were continually ploughed back into the business, funding new and bigger warehouses, continuously updated IT systems, and more marketing and promotional support for the customers. By 2002, group sales had reached £100m.

When in 2003 Neill Tools terminated a 25-year trading relationship without warning, John and his colleagues decided not to pursue a legal fight; instead they concentrated on replacing the Neill-owned ranges, and with the support of their other key supply partners quickly retrieved the lost business.

The global financial crisis in 2008 saw Dormole sales decline by 9%, and then by a further 9% the following year. For Andrew Strong, it showed the importance of shareholder support. “It was the ultimate test – in contrast to many companies in the industry, where there were people having to re-apply for their jobs and so on,” he said. “John and his family were all massively supportive – and over the long term, they have given huge support to the management team and its policies.”

Acquisitions continued: the hand tools maker Olympia, the fastenings specialist ForgeFix, and the aforementioned majority share in the distributor Biz Power Tools. These companies were consolidated within Dormole’s acquisition operation Galleon Investments. In 2018, with Brexit looming, the group strengthened its position in the EU with the takeover of the leading Irish tool distributor, Tucks O’Brien, and its sister company Tucks Fasteners & Fixings.

John decided in 2014 to step down as chairman of the business he had co-founded 42 years earlier. “Andrew and other members of the Dormole and Toolbank boards have taken on a greater and greater share of my workload in recent years, so it is therefore very much ‘business as usual’ as far as the company is concerned,” he said. He remained a non-executive director and continued to take a close interest in the group’s progress – but his presence at the Dartford office became less and less frequent.

“He was a real entrepreneur, a fearsome negotiator, and passionate about promoting the interests of wholesale distribution and Dormole in particular,” said Andrew Strong. “He drove us on at times when the odds seemed insurmountable because he believed so strongly in the business and the team that he had built. His love of the business and everyone in it, who he referred to as the Toolbank family, meant that the development of Toolbank and Galleon became one of the major focuses of his life. He and his family therefore kept re-investing in the business in order that it could grow and prosper.”

Recognition of the group’s achievements came from an unexpected quarter in 2015, when Toolbank was ranked number 219 out of 250 in the Sunday Times Top Track 250 ‘league table’ of independent medium-size private companies in the UK ranked by turnover. The ranking actually understated the group’s position, as the Sunday Times looked only at Curtis Holt’s accounts, and neglected to include CA Clemson. When the companies merged in 2018, and the figures included Clemson’s sales as well as Dormole’s, Toolbank rose to number 114 in the table.

John always saw his role as an employer as something like a benevolent patriarch, and research during 2018 confirmed that the Dormole group had an extraordinarily high proportion of long-service employees. Of the 939 people employed, nearly half had clocked up 10 years with the company. 299 had reached 15 years, and of those 299, 197 had done 20 years. In fact there were 72 people who had been with the group for 30 years or longer. There can’t be many companies – in any industry – that could match this record of loyalty and long service.

The ‘family company’ feeling is evident throughout the group, and not just because the business is still owned and run by the founders’ families. There are family connections at all levels in the business: fathers and sons, husbands and wives, generations of employees. Another staff member put it this way: “There is a ‘pitch in together’ mentality about the place”.

John was much more than just a successful businessman: he was a long-standing supporter of the industry charity, the Royal Metal Trades Benevolent Society, later re-named the Rainy Day Trust. He served as a trustee for many years, and when he stepped down, he ensured that other Dormole group representatives took his place on the charity’s board. In addition, he was a committed and generous governor of Sir Robert Geffery’s School in Landrake, Cornwall, through his association with the Worshipful Company of Ironmongers, for whom he had previously been the Master.

Also behind the scenes, he built up one of the UK’s most significant collections of rare and historic hand tools, working with honorary curator Wally Flude. For many years the collection was displayed in a locked room at the Dartford office, where it could be seen only by invited guests, but John had long cherished an ambition to have it on public view. This was finally achieved with an agreement to transfer the collection to the Ken Hawley Collection Trust in Sheffield, and the transfer took place in 2019, a few months before his death.

He is survived by his widow Elizabeth, his daughters Frances, Catherine, Philippa and Alex, and their families. His life and work will be recalled at a service of thanksgiving in Sevenoaks.

European cities commit to net zero buildings

ON Wednesday 4 December, leading European cities and companies pledged to slash carbon emissions from their buildings to net zero.

Helsinki, Finland and Valladolid, Spain have signed the World Green Building Council’s (WorldGBC) Net Zero Carbon Buildings Commitment, alongside property sector leaders BuroHappold, Carbon Credentials, Deerns, Grimshaw Architects, Grosvenor Group, Newsec Finland and Ylva.

By signing the Commitment, the cities and companies pledge to reach net zero emissions for their own buildings by 2030, and cities pledge that all buildings in their cities will meet the target by 2050. Several signatories including Helsinki have announced their intention to get there even faster, with buildings playing a central role in the city’s goal to be entirely carbon-neutral by 2035, one of the world’s most ambitious city climate targets.

Jan Vapaavuori, Mayor of Helsinki, said: “Climate change is the most crucial challenge of our time and buildings are at the heart of the fight against it. The City of Helsinki is committed to taking very ambitious measures in its building stock to reduce heat consumption and increase the use of renewable energy. About 45 percent of Helsinki's emission reduction potential is related to buildings, so for us it’s the natural place to take climate action.”

Óscar Puente Santiago, Mayor of Valladolid, said: “The climate challenge is huge and Valladolid has demonstrated its ambition to improve citizens’ lives by improving our buildings. We are working on innovative energy efficiency projects in public and private buildings, retrofitting our buildings and using solar energy. Becoming the first city in Spain to sign the Net Zero Carbon Buildings Commitment is a great opportunity to demonstrate what must be done.”

Valladolid has committed to releasing an ambitious new law next year to drive district heating and renewable energy in new buildings, and energy improvements in some 3,000 homes per year between 2020 and 2050. Net zero carbon will also become a precondition for buildings rented by the City Council from 2030.

Helsinki and Valladolid join 26 other leading cities across the world that have already signed the Commitment. This signal of increasing ambition from European cities gives an early boost to the ‘European Green Deal’; the upcoming European Union’s flagship strategy to establish the first-climate-neutral continent.

The commitments were unveiled today at a Brussels summit hosted by the BUILD UPON2 project. Bruno Sauer, CEO of GBC España the project coordinator, said: “As the COP25 climate negotiations open in Madrid this week, the partners of the BUILD UPON2 project are calling on public and private sector leaders to commit to decarbonising their building stock, and work with us to develop ambitious strategies to renovate and regenerate our buildings.”

Private sector leaders are also stepping up to the challenge. Ylva, a major property owner in the Helsinki area is committing to net zero carbon in operations across all its buildings by 2025. Like the City of Helsinki, the company is also starting to tackle embodied carbon, a climate issue for construction that is on the rise.

Antti Kerppola, CEO, Ylva  said: “It’s our role to support Helsinki’s climate neutral city goals, and by joining the commitment we want to demonstrate that you can change the game if you set out an ambitious target and plan. Through this action we hope to inspire the 30,000 strong student community owners that our business interacts with every day.”

They are joined by Newsec Finland, a full service real estate business solutions provider for investors and building owners managing €15 billion in assets in Finland. Under the Commitment, all their occupied offices will be net zero carbon by 2030.

Grosvenor Group, one of the world's largest privately owned international property companies, has also signed the commitment. On top of taking property it directly manages - including some historic listed buildings - to net zero by 2030, the company is committed to work towards all buildings across its portfolio, directly and indirectly-managed, to be embodied and operational net zero carbon by 2050.

Grimshaw Architects is an architectural firm based in London, will achieve net zero carbon in their studios across the UK, Australia, Dubai and North America before 2030. They are also committed to designing net zero carbon buildings by 2030, and will work with the construction value chain to support this objective.

Headquartered in the Netherlands, Deerns is an independent engineering firm which operates worldwide, committed to achieving zero operational carbon emissions in its own offices by 2025, and educating and influencing industry to make net zero carbon mainstream by delivering future-ready, carbon neutral designs.

BuroHappold Engineering, a UK based integrated engineering consultancy operating in 23 locations worldwide, is committing to net zero carbon in their own business operations by 2021, along with a pioneering target related to their design projects: all new build projects will be net zero carbon in operation by 2030, and all projects by 2050. Buro Happold also spearhead the recently launched ‘Engineers Declare’, a campaign calling on UK industry collaboration to drive rapidly towards zero carbon buildings.

Carbon Credentials is a professional services organisation that works with major corporations and real estate owners to reduce energy usage and manage sustainability impacts. In addition to reducing their own impacts, Carbon Credentials commits to enabling the transition to a zero carbon economy, and in 2019 impacted emissions reductions in excess of 40,000 tCO2e through work with clients.

For Ylva, Newsec, Grosvenor, Grimshaw Architects, Deerns and BuroHappold, joining the Commitment is a pathway to becoming members of EP100 – a global corporate leadership initiative for energy-smart companies, delivered by The Climate Group in partnership with the Alliance to Save Energy. It brings together energy-smart companies committed to using energy more productively, to lower greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) and accelerate a clean economy. The Commitment’s inclusion of energy efficiency as an essential component to a net zero carbon strategy supports the improvement of energy productivity.

www.worldgbc.org/build-upon

Snap election a 'major setback' for tool theft petition

AFTER attracting 32,000 signatures in just four weeks, the government has shut down an official petition to combat the shocking rise in tool theft.

The petition launched by Simply Business, the UK’s leading provider of small business insurance to over half a million SMEs, called for greater fines for those convicted of tool theft and tighter regulations on the selling of second-hand tools. 

Now, the digital broker has expressed its disappointment that the snap election is obstructing efforts to review and tackle the staggering increase in tool theft. 

It was growing at an average of 1,000 signatures a day and at one stage was the fastest growing Government petition in the whole UK, at a time when British politics has been dominated by the Brexit debate.

However, Parliament’s decision to call a General Election on Thursday, 12 December has seen purdah swing into action, thus pausing Simply Business’ efforts to reach the goal of 100,000 signatures which would see the issue debated in the House of Commons. The sudden dissolution of Parliament meant that all live petitions were suspended not to be reopened so a number of burgeoning campaigns had their growing momentum immediately stopped.

Simply Business’ campaign aimed to highlight the growing tool theft epidemic, which is destroying the livelihoods of tradespeople up and down the country. One in three (37%) tradespeople have had their tools stolen, costing victims over £3,000 on average, and leaving the vast majority unable to work. A staggering 84% of tradespeople also don’t believe the government is doing enough to prevent tool theft.

With all of the data suggesting the problem’s only getting worse – tool theft related insurance claims have increased 54% in the last two years alone – there’s little sign of the issue going away. 

Just seven days prior to the petition being taken down, the Government’s formal response to the petition reaching 10,000 signatures was to state it “has no plans to amend existing legislation” and “The Theft Act 1968 includes robust measures for dealing with crimes of theft and handling stolen goods, including tool theft.” 

Numerous petitions have been launched to combat tool theft in the last 10 years, each ending with close to 30,000 signatures and marked by a political response which wouldn’t commit to any action. Simply Business’ petition was designed to build a coalition of stakeholders who would come together to try and end the scourge of tool theft that blights British tradespeople once and fall.

An alarming 84% of tradespeople also don’t believe the government is doing enough to prevent tool theft. Just under two thirds (60%) surveyed believe there needs to be greater sentences for thieves, while more than half (55%) believe there should be greater fines for those convicted and half of tradespeople believe there should be greater funding for police.  

Bea Montoya, chief operating officer at Simply Business, commented: “The success of the stamp out tool theft petition within its first month reflects the significance of this widespread issue. With the frequency and cost of the crime on a continual rise, clearly there is a need to act. 84% of tradespeople feel the Government isn’t doing enough on this issue and at Simply Business we empathise with tradespeople.

“We’ve reached a stage in 2019 where a van is broken into every 23 minutes in the UK, with 1 in 3 tradespeople having had their tools stolen. For our customers in the trade, it’s far more than an inconvenience, the effects are devastating. Stolen tools removes their ability to earn a living.

“For the Government to state it has no plans to amend, or even review, 50-year-old legislation is a missed opportunity to find a solution to this growing crisis. How bad will things have to get before the Government acts?

“As we enter winter - the worst times of the year for tool theft - and with the upcoming general election, tradespeople simply cannot afford for this issue to once again slip down the political agenda. In the meantime, we will keep highlighting the facts related to this crime and continue sharing tips to prevent becoming a victim of tool theft, which is the least that our nation’s tradespeople deserve.”

www.simplybusiness.co.uk

'To go green, you must overhaul policies,' warns RICS

THE Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) has launched its General Election 2019 manifesto, calling on the future Government to move past Brexit, and to overhaul current domestic policies to build a more sustainable country that future generations can be proud of, and to fulfil aspirations to be carbon-neutral.

A new approach for the built and natural environment, calls for any new Government to put the climate, sustainable construction, placemaking and future-proofed housing policy at the forefront of the agenda. It also includes a clear call to action for the next leading party to take stock of the UK’s top domestic issues and then refocus how the built and natural environment can play a crucial role in future-proofing the UK’s towns, cities and economy.

The manifesto offers over 35 recommendations focussing on three main topics impacting the built and natural environment and its professionals: climate change, housing supply and high street rejuvenation.

Some of the key asks from the manifesto include:

  • Level the stamp duty playing field - undertaking a full-scale review of stamp duty;
  • Make business rates fairer, and easier for small businesses - promoting and supporting a thorough review of the current business rates system to ensure that legislation matching the Non-Domestic Rating (Lists) Bill is reintroduced;
  • Level the playing field between our high streets and those businesses operating primarily on the internet. Government should evaluate the current state of play and assess whether an internet sales tax or similar could be employed to then fund high street renewal; and
  • VAT for repair should be cut - cut VAT for repair, maintenance and improvement works in existing buildings.

Hew Edgar, RICS Head of UK Government Relations and City Strategy, said: “Chartered Surveyors play a leading role in tackling our most pressing domestic issues in the UK; and in key areas of the housing crisis, adapting to our changing environment and mitigating against climate change, and working on our high streets and their rejuvenation. We are keen to see real change in the way government approaches these key issues.

“These sectors, and our professionals who operate within them, are vital to economic development, helping to support stable and sustainable investment and growth across the UK.

“We believe the next government, regardless of configuration, needs to provide a holistic approach to support the built and natural environments. Failure to address the issues highlighted within the manifesto in a planned, cohesive way will have a serious impact on the wider economy, which will exacerbate existing housing and infrastructure deficit, and hinder any aspirations to be one of the greenest countries in the world.”

Full commentary on the parties’ manifestoes and RICS’ full manifesto can be found at rics.org/GE2019

'More ambitious financial incentives needed to upgrade homes', say builders

A BETTER offer for homeowners is needed if we are to reduce emissions from buildings by 2025, according to the Federation of Master Builders (FMB) in response to the Liberal Democrats manifesto published today.

Ifan Glyn, FMB Senior Hub Director, said: “The Lib Dems' pledge to cut VAT on home insulation is a step in the right direction and is an area that we have been lobbying on for a number of years through the Cut the VAT campaign.

"However, I feel that it needs to go further and VAT should be cut on the labour element of home improvement work across the board. Doing so would simplify the VAT system and send a clear message that boosting jobs and consumer demand in this space is a priority. We know that homeowners are more likely to request energy efficiency upgrades as a bolt on to other building work being carried out on their homes. Cutting VAT across the board would therefore incentivise the de-carbonisation of our homes further."

Glyn concluded: “On a positive note, I strongly welcome the Lib Dems’ pledge to enforce big businesses and government agencies to adhere to the prompt payment code. Smaller building firms are being held back by the abuse of retentions and late payment practices that are rife. Getting tough on serial offenders will help small businesses get back to doing what they do best, which is delivering quality work and training the next generation of builders.”

www.fmb.org.uk

'Brexit election must address housing crisis,' says FMB

THE urgent need to build more homes for everyone should be a key priority for all the political parties during the General Election campaign, says the Federation of Master Builders (FMB).

The FMB is calling on all the political parties to make house building a national infrastructure priority, along with 11 other key policy areas in its ‘Programme for Government’ published today. 

The programme calls for the political parties to commit to the following:

Housing

  • Make house building a national infrastructure priority and build 1.5 million new homes 
  • Free up more public land for housing and break it up into small plots for small builders
  • Invest in local authority planning departments to speed up the planning process 

Skills 

  • Promote vocational education and invest in Further Education 
  • Reform the UK Apprenticeship Levy so it works better for small companies
  • Introduce a fair and balanced post-Brexit immigration system 

Quality 

  • Licence all UK construction companies
  • Introduce mandatory warranties for building control-approved work
  • Create a new ‘General Builder’ qualification 

Net Zero Carbon

  • Create a National Retrofit Strategy 
  • Invest in upskilling builders to build and upgrade homes fit for the future
  • Cut VAT on home improvement work to 5% 

Brian Berry, chief executive of the FMB, said: “In this Brexit election the main political parties mustn’t lose sight of the big issues facing the UK such as the current housing crisis. We are still not building enough new homes, and this has led to an affordability crisis and over-crowding. This election is an opportunity for all parties to publish ambitious plans to turn this situation around. Small builders stand ready to help the new Government not only to build more new homes but also make our existing homes more energy efficient.

“Small building companies will also be instrumental in helping the future government tackle other major challenges facing the UK, from helping to tackle the climate crisis to helping to building the hospitals and schools of the future. Our Programme for Government gives 12 clear policies for each of the political parties to adopt to support SME builders. Politicians must not only give the country the gift of resolving Brexit this Christmas, but also a vision for the future of our built environment.”

www.fmb.org.uk

Personal and professional safety engages delegates at Hire 2019 Conference

HIRE 2019 has been hailed a resounding success after HAE EHA’s annual conference brought together industry stakeholders and influencers for the best programme yet of speaker presentations and exhibitor stands and demonstrations.

The overriding themes of safety and career development were outlined in the opening addresses by HAE EHA Chair Brian Sherlock and commercial manager Paul Gaze alongside Scott Ball of HireTrain, and a full and fascinating programme followed.

First up was Dr Anne-Marie Imafidon MBE, a British computing, mathematics and language genius who founded Stemettes in 2013, a social enterprise promoting women in Science Technology Engineering and Maths (STEM) careers. Her uplifting presentation focused on the challenges of enticing women into these traditionally male areas of employment, explaining how STEM roles are “incredibly creative” and all about problem solving.

Mark Noonan of CITB then followed with a complementary examination of how Pathways to Hire is expected to also encourage more new starters into what is being positioned as a dynamic and appealing career path; and Dr Léa Cléret of Leadership Trust continued with how to hang onto valued team members through a sustained programme of leadership and inclusive behaviours. Frank Elkins, COO of Travis Perkins, rounded off the morning with a thought-provoking presentation on measures being taken to tackle dumper and digger safety.

The afternoon was kicked off by Chris Lucas of HSE who explained the link between inadequate welfare facilities and construction worker ill health, and steps being taken to address the issues. Chief economist of Barbour-ABI and AMA Research, Tom Hall, gave a fascinating insight into the state of the UK’s economy as well as that of the construction sector; followed by Det Supt Neil Austin of West Mercia Police, who had the audience gripped with his overview of ATM theft and the work of the National Intelligence Unit for Serious and Organised Acquisitive Crime.

Finally, with mental health taking centre stage in many nationwide forums at the moment, there was a timely and thought-provoking addition to the debates from Brian Parker of AFI Uplift and Paul Gaze of HAE EHA, on creating and updating mental health policies in the workplace and the ideal model for such policies.

HAE EHA chief executive officer Graham Arundell commented: “This was without doubt the most varied and engaging line-up of speakers we have ever had at our annual conference, and it was also gratifying to see many of our members exhibiting alongside the highly informative presentations. HAE EHA is making great strides with several proactive partners to really support and grow the Hire sector, to develop new opportunities and evolve as necessary to continue making a crucial contribution to the UK economy. Hire 2019 underlined these objectives and could not have been more closely allied to the theme of collaboration, innovation and inspiration.”

www.hae.org.uk

'Spectre of uncertainty continues to haunt construction,' says FMB

UK CONSTRUCTION PMI data published today shows overall volumes of work in construction falling for the sixth consecutive month.

Commenting on the sustained downturn, Brian Berry, chief executive of the Federation of Master Builders (FMB), said: “Following a Halloween Brexit delay, the spectre of uncertainty continues to haunt the construction industry, and this is leading to a sustained decline not seen in over six years.

"A Brexit delay, while giving some respite by avoiding a no-deal Brexit, has just led to further uncertainty and stagnation, which is leading to subdued client demand. We know that many homeowners are holding off undertaking home improvement works due to Brexit uncertainty and this is having a knock-on effect of builders' workloads. It is unclear how long clients will hold off waiting for certainty, and invest their money elsewhere.

“Ahead of the general election, political parties should provide clear and unambiguous support for business and back this up with pro-enterprise policies. Now is the time for politicians to come up with some radical policies to give a much-needed boost to the UK’s construction industry. The new Prime Minister will also need to give much-needed certainty, from day one, about the future direction of the UK and its relationship with the EU.”

Also commenting on the data, Gareth Belsham, director of the national property consultancy and surveyors Naismiths, said: “So far this is more a case of respite rather than relief. Construction output is still falling, even if the rate of decline is a little less punishing.

“What silver linings there are are modest. The number of new orders coming in is sliding fast, but at least the latest drop was less than that seen in August and September. 

“Investor appetite remains deeply fragile and many contractors are being pummelled on three fronts. Just as their order books get thinner and erode their confidence, they are being forced to bid low for the shallow pool of new work available – while at the same time input costs go up and slice into their margins. No wonder many construction firms are trying to cut costs where they can, and staffing levels have fallen every month since April.

“Nevertheless there are some glimmers of hope. While Britain’s Brexit agony has been put on pause by what promises to be an equally divisive election hiatus, the chances of a chaotic ‘no-deal’ exit have at least diminished.

“While few would bet on a magical return to business as usual after the December election, even a modicum of stability could lead to the thawing of long-delayed projects.

“Until then the industry has little choice but to knuckle down and retain enough capability to cope with the day – whenever it comes – that demand returns to more normal levels.”

www.fmb.org.uk

Tool theft affects 8 in 10 builders, finds FMB

MORE than three-quarters of Britain’s builders have been victims of tool theft, with some having lost more than £20,000 worth of tools in the past ten years, according to new research by the Federation of Master Builders (FMB).

Key results from the FMB’s research into tool theft reveal:

  • More than three quarters (83%) of UK builders have had their tools stolen.
  • More than one in three incidents involved theft from vans (38%) and theft from sites (34%). 7% of incidents saw tools stolen from a shed or garage at home, and 3% of incidents saw tools stolen from inside the home.
  • Of builders who had tools stolen in the past ten years (78%), the most common value of loss was £2,500. One in ten builders said that they had at least £10,000 worth of tools stolen, and 2% said they had at least £20,000.
  • When asked how many working days builders had lost to tool theft over the past ten years, one in three builders (29%) said one to two working days and 16% said two to five working days. 7% of builders said they had lost five working days or more.
  • Over a 40-year working life, a builder will typically lose £10,000 worth of tools and 6 working days to tool theft.
  • Tool theft is taking its toll on builders’ mental health, causing 15% of builders to suffer from anxiety, one in ten builders (11%) to suffer from depression and some reported experiences of panic attacks and suicidal thoughts.

Brian Berry, chief executive of the FMB, said: “Decisive action is needed to tackle tool theft. Eight in ten builders report that they have had tools stolen before. This is causing mental health issues amongst builders with reports of depression, anxiety, anger, frustration, stress and even suicidal thoughts. The Government needs to look into tool theft and consider the need for the introduction of tighter regulations around selling second-hand tools, and greater minimum fines for those convicted of tool theft.” 

Berry concluded: “Builders need to take extra steps to reduce the risk of theft by bringing tools inside at night, installing extra locks in the van, marking tools with an address or phone number, and painting them a special colour. Builders should also check their insurance policies to see what they have covered. Websites are available where tool serial numbers can be registered for extra piece of mind when it comes to making a claim on insurance. Tool theft is not a victimless crime and stronger government action is needed to help tackle this growing problem.”

www.fmb.org.uk

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