Seldom, if ever, have so many pressures been inflicted on construction at the same time as today. The unpredictable outcome of the UK negotiations to secure trade deals after the current EU deals expire at the end of the year would have been enough on its own to cause consternation in boardrooms across all industries, resulting in investment plans being at best postponed. A no deal Brexit looked like a short odds bet with less than six months to go, with an extension to the UK’s departure unlikely to be requested by a firmly pro Brexit Cabinet.
Commentators and forecasters across the world are grasping at whatever straws they think they can see for signs of a rebound from the Covid-19 lockdown’s impact on economies.
What a difference a month makes. Four short weeks ago lockdown was in full swing and although some construction sites remained open many were effectively closed; those in Scotland were ordered to close by the Scottish Government.
Confusion still reigned as we went to press over how construction companies should respond to the conflicting messages being issued by governments over whether sites can, or should, or might be able to safely operate.
It is alarming that so much confusion reigned as we went to press over whether or not construction sites should close down, with the Scottish Government initially saying work should stop on all but ‘essential’ projects while the Westminster government was allowing sites to open.
Construction seems to be constantly under pressure to reform, with pressure heightening in the wake of disasters like the 2017 Grenfell Tower tragedy. These calls seem to fall mostly on deaf ears so the next thing heard is usually calls for the industry to have reform imposed upon it by legislation.
A ‘renaissance’ in UK infrastructure investment expected to be announced alongside the Budget in March has attracted a lot of comment, but few in the perennial political football that is the construction industry will yet have much confidence that anything transformational is likely to be a widespread agreement that private funding in some form will be needed in a post austerity world, with the current Chancellor of the Exchequer Sajid Javid promising an ‘infrastructure revolution’ as an extra £13 billion or so is pumped into public services. But the signs for private finance in any form are not good.
The government’s replacement for private finance is the subject of consultation, held up like so much else at the Brexit roadblock, and now by a general election. The conclusion of the consultation is keenly awaited by an industry worried about what infrastructure will actually be built – as opposed to the programmes promised by politicians caught up in election hysteria – and crucially, how it will be paid for.
Public sector procurement has always been a focus of interest to Construction Law and in recent years recognition of the need for reform has been growing.
The UK government will take account of a supplier’s approach to payment when it comes to allowing it to tender for public sector projects, according to new payment practice rules.