Construction came together to work through previous lockdowns, we must continue to work together to find solutions says Build UK’s Suzannah Nichol

Suzannah Nichol sq

There is no doubt that 2020 was a tough year. But as the CEO of one of Build UK’s members said: “Construction has been one of the heroes of this crisis”.

I am so proud of the way we pulled together as a sector and worked collaboratively like never before. Our members rose to a whole host of challenges and kept working to deliver when the country needed us most.

It is reassuring that government has recognised the value of construction and now sees us as a critical partner in the economic recovery from covid-19. The government’s significant investment in the infrastructure pipeline, combined with its commitment to the construction playbook and project speed, reflect that we are central to its strategy.

Collaboration is about sharing the pain, rather than fighting for everything and being left with nothing

I have no doubt that there will be more testing moments this year, and we will face them with the confidence and resilience we have demonstrated over the last 12 months.

Through it all, we are changing the industry for the better, and 2021 has the potential to be a great year for construction if we build on the lessons that we have learnt.

It was encouraging to see the majority of firms recognise that disputes were not the solution when the economic stress of the pandemic hit, despite the unavoidable disruption and delays. Build UK’s guidance on managingcovid-19 within contracts provided practical advice on dealing with difficult situations without resorting to costly dispute resolution, and there was also clear direction on this from the Construction Leadership Council.

Build UK members also maintained their strong standards on prompt payment, and we even saw a slight reduction in average payment times during the first half of 2020. The supply chain worked together, understanding that collaboration is about sharing the pain, rather than fighting for everything and being left with nothing.

The crisis situation we found ourselves in forced the industry to get together in one (virtual) room to identify priorities. And it really worked. Build UK held weekly calls with members, quickly getting to grips with the key issues and potential solutions. We then used data and information to demonstrate the actions we needed government to take to support the industry’s diverse ecosystem made up of companies of all sizes including contractors, consultants, manufacturers and suppliers. As a result, our relationship with government has never been stronger.

By agreeing what makes a real difference, we can ensure we have the biggest impact for the whole supply chain. With the overriding priority being to keep construction sites open, we avoided getting side-tracked or distracted by issues of a smaller magnitude. The adoption of the Site Operating Procedures across the industry showed that we can put individual issues to one side for the benefit of the whole sector, enabling us to get clear and consistent statements from Government that construction should continue to operate. This in turn led to the successful call for supporting policies, such as accelerated payment of invoices, extended site-working hours, and the Construction Talent Retention Scheme.

While none of us could have imagined the year we have just had, construction came into its own and stepped up in the most challenging of circumstances. By working together, we have kept our industry open and, in the words of the business secretary, weare making a hugely valued and critical contribution to the country’. We must carry forward what we learnt into 2021 and transform how we deliver projects to become the world class industry we want to be.

Suzannah Nichol is chief executive of Build UK, which has released a short film about construction’s efforts during the pandemic