Construction Breakfast – Thoughts from the ground up
This week we hosted our second virtual Construction Breakfast, bringing together people from across all facets of the industry to exchange experiences, thoughts on moving towards recovery and how they and their business are adapting to the current status quo.
Just three weeks since we last came together, announcements on employment, social distancing, health and safety, schooling and a raft of other areas have been made daily, all of which impact the construction industry.
The task of simply keeping up with the latest advice and interpreting the truth behind the daily headlines can seem challenging enough, never mind implementing it and keeping your business afloat, team safe and clients happy.
However, David Morris, our Head of Construction, opened the breakfast with some positive news, sharing statistics on the industry and how even in the past few weeks, there has been an uplift in (safe) site activity and productivity. Hot off the press, he also mentioned the residential property market now being back open for business and the knock-on positive effect this should bring to the industry.
Case law has confirmed what David said at the last breakfast, that contracts carry on, and record-keeping remains as important as ever. Covid-19 may in itself be beyond our control, but that does not mean force majeure in itself. The onus is on the party seeking to be excused from the performance of its contractual obligations and claiming force majeure to show that the effect the pandemic has had is beyond its control. If that party could have continued to operate within the government guidelines, force majeure is unlikely to apply.
As well as the opportunity to network in small breakout groups, our MD, Richard Hill, gave insight into the work that has gone on behind the scenes to prepare for and implement Gregg Latchams’ move into effectively becoming a virtual law firm. His wisdom was evident as he outlined some of the journey of leading the firm to where we are now, with Gregg Latchams well placed to serve its clients’ needs at this time and in the future.
David interviewed guest speaker Tim Westwood, Business Development Manager at the Kier Group, who shared his experiences since the Covid-19 lockdown began. Here are some of the key points Tim made during the Q&A style interview:
Q: How has Covid-19 affected your business to date?
A:“Like every organisation, when the lockdown was first announced on 23rd March, we had to act very quickly. We had a 24 hour shut down initially, which was really important as a ‘stop and pause’ to be able to review what we were going to do. We’ve been able to keep about 95% of our sites open by putting in place the measures outlined by the Government. But our mantra has always been simply ‘if it’s not safe, you stop.’ When it comes to our offices they obviously closed immediately as we were able to implement home working with minimal disruption to that side of things.”
Q: How are things at present?
A:“We are hoping to build site resource as it becomes safer to do so. We have two or three key projects in Bristol due to handover in the next few months, so we are focussing efforts on meeting those deadlines. Our office teams are working well virtually and have got used to doing so, so that will continue for the foreseeable future.”
Q: Tell us about your involvement in the Bristol Nightingale Hospital UWE?
A: “This has been a golden opportunity for us to use our skills and knowledge to be part of something that will directly help the fight against Covid-19. We’re really proud to have been a part of it, it’s been a huge undertaking for all those involved and all parties involved worked really collaboratively against a moving brief. Between us we changed the former UWE conference centre to a 301 bed hospital in just 18 days. It’s quite an achievement when you think about it as it’s not just cosmetic changes, it involved specialist medical requirements that made it quite complex. The standard achieved and level of finish was quite something and it’s able to offer truly specialist care to those in need.”
Q: What areas of concern do you have for the future?
A:“With all the money the Government is having to spend to keep the economy going at the moment, our concern is the knock on effect of this in the future. Will a squeeze on public and capital expenditure be heading our way further down the line? There’s no indication that this is the intention at present, however things are moving at pace so we aren’t ruling anything out.”
Q: What do you think of the outlook?
A:“This has been a seismic shock to all of use. Our clients are going to be reckoning with a landscape that is very different, everyone’s going to have to adapt their services and we are part of that service sector and must do the same. Of course I do see the challenges, but I am an optimist. What we must do for the remaining weeks and months, is make sure we’ve fashioned ourselves into a business that is fighting fit for the future.”
Our thanks to Tim Westwood for joining us. The next Construction Breakfast will be on Wednesday 3rd June, full details and registration to follow.