Industry Insights: July 2020 – Preparing for a Post-COVID-19 World

By Jen Heil | July 10, 2020

Welcome to the first edition of Industry Insights, our monthly round up of topical issues within the construction industry.

Here at Smith Goodfellow, we are specialists, not generalists. This means that whilst we are, of course, experts in PR and marketing, we also dedicate a lot of time and energy to understanding the nuances of the industries we serve: construction, manufacturing and industrial. We are experts in your business, not just our own. As well as sharing insights into the essentials of PR & marketing, such as how to track the progress of your marketing objective or understanding SEO, we also want to highlight important issues and conversations happening within the sectors we serve. To this end, we are launching a monthly Industry Insights round up, linking to pertinent news items and reflecting on their significance.

Without further ado, here’s what’s happening in the industry at this time:


Spotlight on COVID-19: A Turning Point for the Climate Crisis?

The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has issued comprehensive new advice to the government on creating an economic recovery that “accelerates the transition to a cleaner, net-zero emissions economy and strengthens the country’s resilience to the impacts of climate change”.

There is no question that the world is a very different place from just a few months ago when we entered the new decade. The COVID-19 pandemic has swept the world, having a devastating impact on economies and communities around the globe. As we mourn the terrible loss of life and continue to navigate the challenges of this global event, we must also look to the opportunities now presented to us, to build a stronger, healthier, fairer and more resilient world out of the aftermath.

The CCC outlines key areas where both the fallout from this huge economic shock and the accelerating climate crisis can be addressed at the same time. Areas highlighted include a focus on low-carbon retrofits and the creation of buildings that are ‘fit for the future’. A plan to renovate buildings and construct new housing to the highest standards of energy and water efficiency would create vital employment and upskilling opportunities and would help foster a built environment that supports the shift towards decarbonisation – an essential step in tackling the climate crisis.

Other areas of focus include investing in nature, with tree planting, peatland restoration and green infrastructure; strengthening energy networks to support electrification of transport and heating; improving infrastructure to make it easy for people to walk, cycle and work remotely; and moving towards a circular economy by supporting local authorities to invest strategically in separated waste collection and recycling infrastructure.

There is overwhelming backing from industry leaders for a recovery plan such as that proposed by the CCC, with over 200 leading UK businesses, investors and business networks co-signing an open letter to the government calling for them to build back better.

The opportunities are undeniable and the desire to seize them is clear. How exactly the government will respond to this once-in-a-lifetime moment is still emerging but the potential for jobs creation seems like it could be a key factor in motivating adoption of a greener recovery plan.


The UK Government’s Green Investment Package

The Chancellor has set out a £2bn grant scheme in England for projects such as insulation as part of a wider £3bn plan to cut carbon emissions. These grants could help to support more than 100,000 jobs, significantly lower energy bills for households and signal a significant step towards meeting England’s climate targets. These climate targets cannot be met without a major housing refit but, so far, the government has seemed reluctant to follow through on its manifesto pledge of a £9.2bn investment in “improving the energy efficiency of homes, schools and hospitals”. The lack of action to date seems to stem from the policy being caught up in a “Whitehall turf war” after Chief Advisor, Dominic Cummings, sought to water down the policy and prioritise building new homes over retrofitting measures to existing buildings.

The new £3bn ‘green investment package’ is a welcome move in the right direction, however, it already faces criticism for making little to no provision for the 8.5 million homes in the social and private rented sectors – incidentally the sectors with the worst energy efficiency standards. There will undoubtedly be calls for the government to bring forth a much broader, more comprehensive plan for green investment, in order to meet its target to reduce carbon emissions to net zero, and to fully deliver on its manifesto commitments.


WELL Building Institute launches WELL Health-Safety Rating

Ahead of the launch of the new WELL Standard in August 2020, the WELL Building Institute has released an evidence-based, third-party verified rating for all facility types, focused on operational policies, maintenance protocols, emergency plans and stakeholder education to address a post-COVID-19 environment now, and broader health and safety-related issues into the future. The WELL Health-Safety Rating will empower business owners and operators to prioritise the health and well-being of staff, visitors and stakeholders, as well as providing a road-map to preparing spaces ready for return to business.

Developed by experts and designed to be accessible, with a focus on interventions that require little to no capital expenditure, this new rating recognises that buildings are a powerful vehicle for protecting and improving public health.


Construction Sector: A Sharp Return to Growth

Last month, the Office for National Statistics published bleak figures showing that the value of construction activity in the UK collapsed by £5.1bn in April alone, following widespread shutdowns of sites and suppliers. However, the latest figures from the Purchasing Managers Index (PMI) reveal that June saw the fastest expansion in activity since December 2015, indicating a sharp turnaround in the sector’s performance and bolstering hopes for a strong recovery. These hopes are paired with caution, however, as price inflation triggered by the spike in activity, an ongoing hesitancy amongst clients to secure new contracts and the lost period for tender opportunities all present very real and immediate challenges. As the government’s coronavirus support is phased out, a clear pipeline of future work will become critical to sustained recovery.


Diversity in Construction

It’s no surprise that the industry news in this moment is dominated by the challenges and opportunities presented by the COVID-19 pandemic but there is another, vitally important conversation occurring that cannot be ignored: that of racial equality, diversity and inclusion. This, of course, is a conversation spanning all sectors but the specific realities of this issue in construction are stark.

Building’s latest diversity and inclusion survey shows that a worrying 76% of Black or Black British respondents felt that their chances for career progression had been limited by their ethnicity, sexual orientation, age, gender, disability or mental health condition. This figure fell to 55% for White respondents. There is a particular need to support individuals from underrepresented groups into leadership roles, with 60% of people feeling that leaders had a bias towards people who look, think or act like them.

The Black Professionals In Construction Network (BPIC) is actively working to increase careers awareness within the industry and provide information, support and mentoring to Black professionals to assist their career development. The network hosts a wealth of events to broaden the conversation and open up the room to underrepresented individuals, and their blog hosts plenty of essential reading for understanding the lived experiences of Black professionals in the industry. There is a huge opportunity for individuals and organisations across the sector to engage in dialogue and action to support greater equality, diversity and inclusion, and BPIC is open to everyone, regardless of ethnicity – as the network’s founder, Amos Simbo, rightly says: “You can’t just be talking to yourself. There’s no point. You’ve got to be able to talk to different people.”

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