Home Features Voice of the industry: Don’t lose your balance

It’s too early to take the life belt off but there are signs that the economic tsunami might be coming to an end. In our latest State of Trade Survey FPDC members are telling us that orders are up and tender enquiries are. Good news indeed.

The construction sector has fallen by nearly 10 per cent since the crisis struck so there is a long way to go before we get too excited. But will we ever see a return to the days of growth and more growth? Whatever is in store for our members, we need to make sure that our businesses are fit for the future and can weather any future storms.

Essentially we need to rebalance our capabilities and match the expectations of our customers with the skills we as a sector have to offer. Dry construction techniques and the development of specialist renders and screeds that are faster to install and tackle challenges of improving energy efficiency put this sector firmly on the critical path.

Pre-fabrication and off-site assembly of units is another area of huge and still largely untapped potential, and there are surely rewards awaiting anyone who can crack some of these common problems.

What clients still need to make sure of is that they don’t drain us of cash, for cash is the blood that keeps every specialist alive. Turn to page 27 and see what we’ve all known for years. Small businesses are owed over £36.4bn in late payments, and this problem is getting worse in the current economic climate.

The Cabinet Office should be congratulated for taking steps to improve payments from large to small companies. Mystery shopping and project bank accounts are initiatives that have called some rogues to account.

The all-party inquiry of MPs led by Debbie Abrahams discovered that the construction industry was one of the ‘worst offenders’ for paying late and that small companies were ‘bullied’ by large ones. No surprise here!

The report suggested that the government should establish a construction code of conduct and ensure retention payments are held in a trust. This would be a welcome move for our members and FPDC would fully support it.

FPDC members will need to take responsibility for their own actions. How often have we warned our members to be careful when entering into contracts? Ensure you know what you are signing up to and that you have quantified the risks against the rewards before you are locked into a contract that could be terminal. If you accept services you’re not geared up for or the
payment terms are wrong there’s no reward.

Equally, as technology changes, our sector of the supply chain has to ensure it fully understands the implication new and existing products will have on our ability to deliver building performance as required. We know that understanding technical nuances of drywall, plastering, screeding and lightweight steel framed systems is often weak among our clients. We therefore have a responsibility to ensure that the implications of British and European standards are fully understood.

We encourage all our members to redouble their efforts and ensure that they have the skills to tackle every situation. Get in touch with FPDC and make proper use of our business support hotline on 020 7634 9480. FPDC members have access to technical and legal advice; there is an extensive training programme and one that can now be accessed online to make it event easier.

The world has changed and will continue to change so we need to consider changing the way your Federation delivers its services. For some months we’ve been in discussion with the Association of Interior Specialists (AIS). We share many common objectives and, while we have similar but different approaches, the Federation believes that by combining our resources we can provide an even stronger service for our members. Proposals about bringing the two organisations together will be presented to FPDC members during the next few weeks.

While some might be saddened at the passing of tradition it is essential we protect the heritage that exists; that the sector respects the past but welcomes the future. Those of us who have survived the construction tsunami will be able to tell the tale. What that tale is will vary from contractor to contractor but the one common theme will be tales of getting paid or not getting paid. Perhaps it’s best to keep the life belt on for the moment.

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