So, the nice decade is behind us.
Mervyn King may have been referring to the surge in mortgages, food and fuel inflation, but each week the gloom soaks a little further into construction. In the past seven days, Persimmon has announced a redundancy programme, Countryside is to cut building by a third, Bovis Homes is to make its suppliers wait 90 days for their money and brickmaker Wienerberger is mothballing two of its factories. Grim, grim, grim.
But what of the rest of the industry? Well, those with work overseas or in the public services sectors have healthy enough order books, although competition for that work is bound to grow as enquiries dip and employment opportunities become less abundant. Meanwhile, nervous staff are staying put, firms that used to offer two pay reviews a year can get away with one, and construction staff who left to join developers are ringing up their former employers having found themselves suddenly surplus to requirements.
In one sense, senior managers are probably finding that the loosening labour market is making their lives a tiny bit easier. Human nature being what it is, there’s probably a degree of satisfaction at regaining the upper hand over gilded youths who’ve never has a moment’s worry about where their next project/job offer/salary uplift is coming from. But it would be a disaster if the economic downturn threatened one of the real gains of the past decade: the rise of the enlightened employer. The competition for talent has led firms to worry about the welfare of their staff and care about creating fun working lives for them. In nervous times, it’s essential that employers do what they can to keep morale high. The nice economy might be over but the nice employer doesn’t have to disappear with it.
Denise Chevin, editor
The unbuilding industry
Do you need to worry about the latest draft of the EU’s Construction Products Directive? Well, much of it is a rehash of the old directive, but there’s a paragraph buried at the end that ought to make the industry sit up and take notice. It’s the one requiring that products and components be recycled once finished with. On the face of it, this means architects will be liable for designing buildings that can be easily unbuilt, contractors will have to think about unfixing components … and the demolition contractor’s job is going to get a whole lot more interesting. The big question is: who’s going to be legally liable for ensuring this is complied with 60 years after the building was finished: architect, contractor or demolisher? If all this seems far-fetched, think again; the EU has already done the same thing to the car and electronics industries, and buildings are an obvious next target. With all the other sustainability legislation bubbling away this may seem like too much to contemplate, but sooner or later, we’re going to have to …