Comment – Roadmap to Recovery…?

The following is a transcript from the Demo LIVE video below. If you can’t be bothered to read this, please feel free to just hit the play button down below.

Do you remember watching the Miss World pageant back in those less enlightened, pre-PC days.

Even though they had just spent half an hour parading about in swimsuits, the contestants were then required to prove that they also possessed a brain by answering a bunch of inane questions to illicit some pre-prepared answers:

Q. What will you do if you win the Miss World Crown?: A. “I would like to end world hunger.”

Q. How will you spend your year as Miss World? A. “I will travel the world to spread a message of peace and unity.”

Course you will. Gandhi, Martin Luther King and JFK were fine. But they all fell short of their lofty ambitions because they looked awful in a tiara and none of them could walk elegantly in high heels.

What has all this got to do with demolition and construction?

Well I’ll admit that my brain works in mysterious ways. But that was precisely what sprang to mind while reading the Roadmap to Recovery issued by the Construction Leadership Council here in the UK.

There is no question that – in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic – the construction and demolition industries will need to Restart, Reset, and Reinvent.

But if saying something made it true, then trust me. The water here at Demolition News Towers would be turned into wine (or root beer) on a regular basis. I would have as much hair on the top of my head as I currently have on the bottom. West Ham would be European Champions annually and David Bowie would still walk among us.

Let’s set aside the fact that they describe themselves as a “task force” as if they assemble under the cover of darkness to fight crime; and let’s take the Construction Leadership Council’s three cornerstones one at a time:

Restart. This aims to “increase output, maximising employment and minimising disruption over a period of zero to three months.”

How the Hell do you increase output when clients have shelved construction plans? And maximising employment. Seriously. The sector has been at the pointy end of a skills shortage for as long as I can remember. The only thing maximising employment for the foreseeable future is the fact that there will suddenly be more workers than there is work for them to do.

Reset: The aim here is to “drive demand, increase productivity and strengthen capability in the supply chain.” Call me a cynic – and frankly, you wouldn’t be the first – but that sounds to me like a posh way of saying cut costs and work harder and longer for less.

Reinvent: This element of the grand plan aims to “transform the industry, delivering better value, collaboration and partnership” over the coming 12 to 24 months. I agree 100% that the industry is due a transformation. I am a firm believer that collaboration – not our children – are the future. And I am in no doubt that there are huge efficiencies to be made through the greater use of technology.

But documents such as this roadmap are like political manifestos: a wish list based upon an ideal world scenario that has never and will never exist.

If we’re being totally honest, then the roadmap for the next few years will look more like this:

Clients will call a halt to any works that have not yet been let, preferring to sit on the cash till all this madness subsides.

Any work that has been let will be re-evaluated, re-tendered and re-priced. Collaboration will give way to value engineering.

Major contractors will apply the thumb-screws on sub contractors. They will demand cost savings; they will expect longer credit periods; and the small handful that did start to pay their bills on time will revert to type.

Sub contractors will be unable to cut costs any further without undercutting each other and cutting corners. Those that are willing to sacrifice luxuries such as training and safety to keep the wheels turning will continue. Some of those that are unwilling to do so will go the wall.

Investment in equipment and the technology required to deliver the industry transformation we all crave will stutter, stall and then stop altogether.

The true cost of the CVID-19 pandemic will be borne – as it has been throughout the pandemic – by the workers. Many of them have already been expected to work throughout a national and international quarantine in which virtually everyone else has been required to stay at home. With the Coronavirus now – hopefully – on the decline, their dedication, bravery and resilience will likely be rewarded with sites rendered less safe by widespread cost and corner cutting; with a marked decrease in job security; and – sadly – with redundancies without the back-up of a government furlough scheme.

None of this marks me as a soothsayer or a psychic with my finger on the pulse of the universe. The truth is that the writing is already on the wall because the industry has been here countless times before. What I have described is not a work of fiction. It is not me being deliberately contrarian or courting controversy to make this video go viral. What I have described is the industry’s default reaction; a reaction that has played out countless times before and that – unfortunately – will play out again.

I wish it were otherwise. I really wish that the industry would unite and fully embrace the Restart, Reset, Reinvent ambitions laid out by the Construction Leadership Council.

A roadmap is a fine thing. But I fear it will not prevent many of our number becoming lost.