Two builders in central London, Richard Currell and Karl Mudares, have revealed to Building how Livingstone's levy has affected their livelihoods – and could even force them to stop working in the capital. The main problem they are facing is that the charge has made it even more difficult to attract subcontractors. And the supposed benefit of the charge, that it would make parking easier, has not happened at all.
The congestion charge has led to contractors facing squeezed margins, and according to Currell and Mudares, could force smaller firms out of central London. The situation has got so bad that the mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, must grant the industry some relief from what has become a tax on the development that the capital so desperately needs.
Case study one: “It’s just a nightmare”
Like Richard Currell (see case study two), he is finding it harder to convince subbies to work in central London. “Tradesmen need their vans. They need things like their ladders, which they can’t carry on the train and you can’t leave equipment overnight because it gets stolen. Soon there will be a lack of good tradesmen here. I have to pay all their costs, including the charge.”
Mudares has had no choice but to pass these expenses on to his customers. “They don’t like it. I’m losing and the client is losing – so who is making the money at the end of the day?”
He would like to find work closer to his home, but thinks that there is not the same potential in the outskirts: “I’m considering stopping work in London – what with the charge and parking problems and whatever other charges they’ll introduce. I feel like I’m being robbed. There needs to be some sort of permit or concession.”
Case study two: “Sod it – why should I do this?”
Not only is it affecting current jobs, but Currell sees it as a problem when trying to get work for the future: “We now have to decide whether we even go to give quotes because we have to pass the charge on to clients. With the admin, it rises to £7 or £8. It’s taking the gravy out of jobs.”
The charge is also making it harder for him to find subcontractors. “I can get the best 20 chippies in the country but they won’t come up here any more. It’s not worth the hassle.” He foresees serious long-term effects for subbies in the city. “With all the aggravation there’s going to be a dearth of tradesmen in London.”
The shrinking margins caused by the toll makes it harder to attract workers. “I can’t afford to give my men bonuses anymore,” says Currell. “In fact, I’m the lowest paid member of my team.”
As a small business, Currell feels the impact of the charge hardest. “It’s another nail in the coffin of the small builder. Bigger firms like Bovis are immune to it all. They can absorb costs easier, while for us the margin is really getting squeezed. It’s killing the business. “At times I feel like saying: ‘Sod it – why should I do this?’ I ask myself if it’s worth working in London. I get offers all the time for QS or project management work, and I could make more money. But my firm’s like my family. I’ve worked hard at it. I don’t want to let it go. We’re providing an essential service for people. The whole congestion charge needs rethinking.”