No updates on key issues facing the industry following summer of political turmoil, CPA boss says

Ministers have allowed two major threats to the construction sector to drift during months of political turmoil, one of the industry’s leading representatives in government has said.

Construction Products Association chief executive Peter Caplehorn told Building he had received no updates on the government’s policy towards securing payouts from firms for cladding remediation and its plans for a controversial new post-Brexit certification system.

It comes after a period of “lame duck” government over the summer following Boris Johnson’s resignation in July and a two month-long process to elect a new prime minister.

Peter Caplehorn - Photo

Peter Caplehorn

In April, former housing secretary Michael Gove threatened manufacturers of cladding products with “significant commercial and reputational consequences” if they did not pay up for cladding remediation costs which he said they were partly responsible for.

Gove also said he would do “whatever it takes” to hold these firms to account for the building safety crisis, including pursuing them through the courts.

But Caplehorn said the CPA had not had “any direct approaches” from the government since May. “I’m guessing that’s because we got into this period of electing a new prime minister and the government isn’t yet up to speed,” he said, adding that he expects talks to restart now that a new government is in place.

Gove was sacked by Johnson in July after less than a year in the role. Earlier this month, new prime minister Liz Truss handed the post to Simon Clarke, who promised last week to continue his predecessor’s approach and “finish the job”.

Progress on preparing firms for switching to the new certification system for construction products has also stalled, according to Caplehorn.

The UKCA system will come into force on 1 January 2023 and will require all new or updated construction products to be tested in UK facilities in order to be legally sold on the UK market.

But there is limited or non-existant testing capacity in this country for several key products needed to complete buildings, including glass, sealants and radiators.

Caplehorn said there had been no increase in UK testing capacity for these products despite the deadline for the UKCA requirements, which has already been postponed by 12 months, being just three months away. “We’re exactly in the same place as we were when we started this conversation two and half years ago,” he said.

In June, the government announced it was relaxing the certification scheme to allow existing products which have been certified with the current CE mark to swap over to the UKCA mark.

But this will not apply to new products or those which undergo changes, which is a regular process and could put particular pressure on materials which are imported from overseas.

“We haven’t addressed the fundamental problem, the structural problem, which is the capacity of the testing and certification sector,” Caplehorn said. “We still have a problem with several products having nowhere to test in the UK.”

He added that while there will no longer be a “cliff edge” on 1 January, which had previously been feared, the industry will instead see a “gradual attrition” across the product sector as materials become unavailable on the market place.

“As each product is on a different timescale with regard to either its upgrading and changes as products are developed, you don’t get all products affected in one go. 

“What you get is they will be amended or revised, and at that point they then will be affected by a need to move to a CA mark and if they don’t have the testing and certification available in the UK they’ll drop off the market. The timing will be completely random.”

Caplehorn said he has not yet met either Clarke or new business secretary Jacob Rees Mogg but is hoping a date can be set within the coming weeks.

“We understand why the government would like to transition to UKCA and we’re quite happy to support that but we need a smooth transition, and at the moment it’s creating a huge amount of uncertainty, cost and disruption,” he said.

But he added that ministers are “still searching for an answer as to how this is approached”.

The Construction Leadership Council warned earlier this year that a shortage of testing capacity for products including glass and radiators could mean delays to 150,000 new homes due to lack of material availability.

The chief executive of certification body the British Board of Agrement said in February he was “very, very concerned about the timescale” set out by the government due to the scale of testing required.

The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities has been approached for comment.