Will there be enough work to go back to?

The construction industry – will there be enough work to go back to?

There is absolutely no doubt that the current Covid-19 pandemic has sent a shock wave through the construction industry at an unprecedented level, but what happens next is the question on everyone’s lips right now. What happens to projects that had been planned? Will clients still have the budgets to spend? Is everything on hold? Will the private sector still invest in Plymouth? Will we see the public sector save the day?

Read Mike Borkowski, Chair of the Building Plymouth Procurement Pipeline Partnership’s, very positive viewpoint on this topic which is also available in issue 10 of Building Plymouth’s Covid19 update bulletin available here

Building Plymouth; understanding the local procurement pipeline

By now there can’t be many people across the South West who aren’t aware that the main aim of Building Plymouth is to promote and facilitate recruitment, training and skills for our industry (and what a fantastic job Emma and the team have done). Of course one of the key drivers to investing in employment and skills (in reality people and communities) is for employers to have some confidence about the volume of their forward workload and ideally visibility of the ‘what’, ‘who’, ‘when’ and ‘how’ – understanding pipeline is probably one of the most misunderstood aspects of business.

The team behind Building Plymouth recognised some time ago that the key to accelerate local businesses’ investment in people, was to signpost our local construction industry towards the work available and make sure opportunities were maximised for everyone, but especially for local communities – and so the 4P’s group evolved.

Who are the Building Plymouth Procurement Pipeline Partnership (4Ps) and what do they do?

First a little about the 4P’s group. It has been said many times before but probably the one thing we excel at in the construction industry is working in silos! Main contractors, sub-contractors, clients, consultants, designers, manufacturers and then don’t forget the so called different sectors within construction – Housing, Repairs and Maintenance, Infrastructure, Civils, Highways, Off-site Manufacturing, the bit we just call Construction! The reality is that we all work in the built environment sector and we share many of the same people, skills, clients, funding decisions and budgets that make everything tick. Collaboration is so much better and in this case the aim of the 4P’s group is to stimulate growth and increase confidence by sharing information across the entirety of ‘our industry’ (the built environment) for all of you working in the Plymouth sub-region.

We meet regularly with all of the key public and private sector clients in the area to understand their investment plans for capital projects as well as their operational budgets for repairs and maintenance. We have representatives from the public and private sector covering every type of construction work in the area. We’re also working with the Economic Development team at Plymouth City Council who produce guidance for potential investors and this year that will be supported by a local Building Plymouth Expertise Directory containing contacts in our sector (make sure your business is listed).

Building Plymouth Procurement Pipeline Partnership – our goals and outputs

Currently in the Plymouth sub-region we are tracking over £3 billion worth of spend in the next ten years – plenty to make working and building a business in Plymouth extremely viable.

First of all we understand the value of local spend on communities and the direct effect it has on training and apprenticeship spend, so it’s fair to say that in an ideal world that would be our only objective. However all of the clients in the area have to follow procurement rules of one kind or another and very often that can be seen as a barrier to local suppliers – it doesn’t have to be. Having spent some time managing Public Procurement myself let me assure you that it needn’t be a barrier to any organisation – you just need to understand the rules of the game and that’s where Building Plymouth will help.

As a part of the Government’s initial response they issued two Policy Procurement Notes (PPN 01/20 and PPN 02/20) detailing emergency relaxation
of certain aspects of the Public Contract Regulations under very specific circumstances and secondly dealing with supplier relief (payment and avoiding disputes). In the main these have not affected the way the public sector will procure projects going forward, nor should they disadvantage any potential suppliers. In the short-term some of the effect of these updated procedures saw procurement departments able to direct award works (and share them equally without competition under existing frameworks) connected with Covid-19. Good examples of this in the region would be the NHS Nightingale facilities at the University of the West of England in Bristol and the former Homebase store in Exeter.

Frameworks are a huge subject on their own, but again for the supply chain a good opportunity if you know which providers have slots on which framework and more importantly how do you work with them and who should you contact? This is one of the areas Building Plymouth has identified as a priority to ensure our entire local supply chain understand where to source work, both directly and indirectly.

Some of the other support work we have underway includes:
• Creation of a local Expertise Directory
• Organising Meet the Buyer events
• Hosting online client events
• Circulating ‘how to work with’ guidelines from individual clients
• Providing training and support to SMEs on ‘how to bid’
• Encouraging all clients where possible to include ‘local’ and ‘sustainability’ factors in procurement questions
• Identifying larger suppliers (for example on NHS frameworks) and ensuring our smaller local supply chain know who to approach for work
• Organising a regional Social Value event (after restrictions are lifted)
• Publishing a capital and operational spend pipeline of work as soon as possible, which will be available through Building Plymouth

The construction market outlook for Plymouth

We’re hearing a very mixed bag from the clients in our group at the moment, probably best summed up by the sentiment from many ‘a big shock but working towards getting back to normal as soon as possible’. For some nothing has really changed. Overall there is still plenty to be positive about with significant investment confirmed in and around the city.

Plymouth City Council has announced their ‘Resurgum’ Recovery programme and they will focus all of their short to medium term spend on achieving the greatest economic impact to the city. In reality that will mean projects that create more jobs or stimulate other economic activity will almost certainly ‘move up the pecking order’ in terms of priority. Plymouth City Council has been a stellar example of dealing expediently with the short-term crisis management (emergency loans and small business grants etc.) whilst still dedicating significant resources and leadership time to a recovery plan, whilst many others were still reeling from the shock.

The need for housing hasn’t gone away and we expect both the social housing and private sector to regain momentum very quickly. Clearly the focus in private housing may shift slightly towards home improvements in the short-term before new house sales recover. In terms of social housing there are still a significant number of new build schemes ready to come out as well as large amounts of routine and backlog maintenance.

Babcock still has an eye-watering sum of money to spend over the next ten years in Plymouth and has confirmed that their planned projects continue to progress. Babcock has been building their local supply chain with the help of Building Plymouth and will shortly be holding a ‘Meet the Buyer’ event with us. We’ll keep you advised on the date, which due to current restrictions on social gatherings may have to be online.

Finally there is and always has been enough work in Plymouth to sustain a very healthy industry. We are blessed with a knowledgeable, experienced and very capable sector across every discipline. There is very little (if anything) that we as an industry couldn’t do without ever leaving the South West. It does seem a nonsense sometimes to have local firms heading out of the region for work whilst B&Bs are full of workers coming into the area (sorry hospitality sector!).

Maybe one of the bi-products of this crisis will be a desire for us all to work closer to home (or actually at home for some of you!) – goodness knows the environment has certainly appreciated the dramatic decrease in travel. If we have the people here, if we have the work here, let’s keep investing and build our businesses here – and Building Plymouth would like nothing more than to help you all achieve that.

To all my friends and colleagues in the industry please take care and remember #wewillmeetagain.