While in general the UK construction industry is haunted by its reputation for project delays and poor productivity levels, even the most proficient main contractor will not have been able to avoid the impacts of covid-19.  While the government supported and even encouraged construction sites to remain open, making that happen as the pandemic grew has been nearly impossible. So how do main contractors deal with the reality that they will fall horribly short of their contractual obligations on projects?

Saving construction contracts

Industry bodies are calling for open talks and negotiations rather than being a stickers for the fine print – even though many firms would be quite within their legal rights to do so. There hasn’t been a single firm or sector of the construction industry that has not been adversely affected by the pandemic. While it may be tempting to fight over the scraps that are left and point fingers, wouldn’t it be better to forget the fine print and look at the bigger picture pertaining to how the construction industry can be saved?

Construction was challenged long before the pandemic hit and project managers are no strangers to having to make difficult decisions. It’s going to require strong management and a mind shift to collaboration, recognizing that everyone is feeling the pressure and trying to do all they can to keep businesses afloat while juggling multiple major challenges.

It’s a given that output has been lost whether sites were fully closed or not. And recovering that output, given new safety measures that have to be enforced will be especially challenging if not impossible. The legal approach would be to see how these delays could be remedied, either by demanding longer shifts so that time can be made up or implementing penalties. While the summer daylight hours may make longer shifts possible, expecting this alone to fix the situation is optimistic, so that leaves penalties. In reality, most contracts are going to need a different approach.

Finding solutions that are achievable

There may be no clear path forward because there are still so many unknowns, but implementing penalties to an already crippled sector isn’t really an option. What contractors can do is have open and honest conversations as to what’s possible and what their limitations are. Everyone’s well aware of the impacts of the pandemic so there’s no point in pretending otherwise. Will the construction industry embrace greater collaboration and open dialogue as a solution to rebuilding the industry?