A New Normality

During these unprecedented times, Andrew Carpenter, Chief Executive, STA, considers what the UK construction industry could and should look like when the COVID-19 pandemic has passed.

I try and look for positives in all things and intend to focus my thoughts accordingly. The first piece of good news is the general consensus on the importance of the UK construction industry. Whilst not identified as a ‘key’ sector in the current list of priority jobs, we are universally considered to be an important enabler of ‘UK PLC’ and one that is critical in driving the economy going forward, accounting for around 10% of GDP. Furthermore, the tremendous work carried out by UK construction companies in speedily turning conference centres into Nightingale Hospitals has been recognised as truly inspirational.

However, when turning our minds to the future beyond COVID-19, we have a tremendous opportunity to ensure we do not resort to ‘business as usual’ and seize the moment to achieve a new ‘norm’.

For many years we have been grappling with major issues relating to our sector which now may be resolved almost ‘overnight’ if we have the desire. Most notably the climate change crisis. We have an opportunity to ensure that ‘net zero’ is front and centre when it comes to procurement and design, thereby ensuring all decision-making focuses on this critical global subject. From the STA’s point of view obviously we will benefit from such a focus on timber and its low embodied carbon statistics. Hence the use of more structural timber will help save the planet.

Secondly the need to raise the bar when it comes to quality is essential and may be incorporated into the same early thinking and decision making. Again, the structural timber sector is able to provide a solution with our STA Assure scheme. By clients ensuring only those companies who are STA Assure accredited are used, we can make sure timber frame is used with confidence by all clients and that there is no gap between design intention and what is actually built.

Thirdly the way we pay our supply chain members must never again mirror the actions and behaviours of what has gone before. Historically the UK construction sector has been made up of many hypocrites when it comes to paying their construction partners. We must ensure we all follow the Build UK Fair Payments procedures and ‘flag up’ anybody who does not carry out its business accordingly.

This applies to all parts of the supply chain, as from my experience all members frequently ‘blame’ the construction partner ‘up’ the chain but then often ‘bully’ those ‘down’ the supply chain. It is time for those supply chain members being abused to say ‘no’ as that is the only way these bully tactics can be obliterated.

There are obviously many other important topics that could and should be addressed like the ‘image of construction’, the need to embrace digital and offsite technologies and an increased focus on health and wellbeing. Let us use this period of lockdown to agree ‘what good looks like’ and ensure we deliver it. I am an optimist and hope this opportunity of a lifetime will be used in the lifetime of the opportunity, that is – now!

For more information visit: www.structuraltimber.co.uk

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