Jane Embury reflects on government gratitude and future challenges.
In a challenging year for us all, it’s nice to feel appreciated.
The Secretary of State for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy has written an open letter to the construction industry.
In it, he pays “tribute to all those who are working tirelessly…delivering on large or small construction sites across the country.”
He adds that “I salute you for the enormous efforts you are individually undertaking to support the UK economy.”
Covid-19 has, of course, thrown up challenges everywhere, and affected everyone professionally and personally.
But it’s worth remembering the important contribution that the construction sector makes to the British economy.
Not least, the sector is a major employer, with some three million people working in it.
Importantly, some 40% of people in the sector are self-employed. More than 200,000 construction businesses are SMEs.
Its size makes it a key element in the overall economy, worth between 12% and 14% of GDP.
The building sector is also a growth multiplier. Every pound spent on construction generates nearly three pounds in other economic activity.
Recent government investment announcements mean that the sector will be responsible for building enormous numbers of new homes.
Until we know how continued home working and online shopping will affect town centres, we can’t make adequate long-term planning decisions.
That’s particularly the case with house building, because we’re already seeing movement away from densely-populated areas.
A focus on restoration and refurbishment is also an important consideration in working towards the government’s commitment of net carbon neutrality by 2050.
The government is right to highlight how our industry will be vital in the nation’s recovery from coronavirus.
But our repeated message has been to, first, think through what Covid-19 will leave in its wake.
Then, and only then, plan for the kinds of housing and infrastructure projects that the country will need in the longer term.
That pragmatic approach will deliver the homes we need, but in the locations where they are needed. It will also help to repurpose our towns and cities to meet a changed economic and social reality.
Repurposing our built environment must also have a national dimension because parts of the UK, particularly the north, have been disproportionately affected.
As we’ve written, that repurposing must have long-term aims and objectives and fully address the green agenda.
We’ve all faced an unprecedented crisis, and it’s vital that the UK construction sector keeps on building.
But the important thing is that we build what’s really needed in the longer-term, rather than build for short-term expediency.