The great corona construction debate

Construction covid19UK close

There is no doubt that weathering the global covid-19 pandemic is placing a strain on everyone, both personally and professionally. There is the fear for personal safety and health, and the wellbeing of friends and loved ones. Then there’s a constant worry about the ability to earn an income and actually be able to pay rent or the mortgage, regardless of your position in the company.

While many contractors in the UK have opted to close sites entirely this currently only accounts for about 25% of sites in England. Scotland has placed a blanket ban on all construction and those remaining open in England are being encouraged to practice social distancing and place health and safety first.

There is much debate in the industry and parliament about what the right thing is to do. Unions say that it’s impractical and often impossible to maintain the 2m social distancing rule on site due to the nature of many construction tasks. Ministers, claim that if the PHE says it is possible then there’s no need to close sites as construction as it is an essential service required to help keep the economy going. Many workers are having to face the difficult choice of whether or not to go to work. Yes they may still be able to continue to earn a living to support their family. But every night when they come home, they may be exposing their family to the virus.

Economically it’s estimating that the losses represented by the current site closures amounts to approximately £170 billion and that ultimately the cumulative effect on revenue for the industry will be a 30-40% loss. There’s no doubt that an impact that size will cause many firms to close permanently.

Ultimately the debate is the catch 22 between the value of people and the value of profit. Without people, there can be no sustained profit, and without profit, there can be no sustained employment of people. But here’s another perspective. Profitability may keep economies growing, but its people that keep economies alive. And even before corona landed on our doorstep, the construction industry wasn’t exactly growing, it was barely surviving. So why are we focussing on losses? These are nothing new. Once the crisis has passed, the profits may be gone, but there will still be people and project opportunities and its people can build up businesses once again. Isn’t it worth keeping them safe?