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Pandemic raises collaboration hopes

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Contractors can just about always say they live in interesting times, but with the world still mired in a pandemic and waiting for a feared second wave amid worries of a bad recession, some very interesting times could lie ahead. As ever though, it is not all doom and gloom by any means. Recovery from the lockdown-enforced collapse in economic activity is well underway and economists are reporting that we are getting closer to ‘business as usual’.

It might still be too early to start talking about construction coming out of this stronger than ever, but there are some positive notes already being struck. Turner and Townsend for example captured headlines in August with a report predicting softening tender prices with a raft of projects having been cancelled or at least postponed. But the report also highlighted there was much that clients could do by way of responsible behaviour to help the industry through a deflationary period. A key action would be to seek ways to promote the collaboration that all sides of the industry have been increasingly calling for over recent years.

Don’t just use a weak market as an excuse to screw your contractors down was the message. Too much of that behaviour is likely to drive some into insolvency, weakening tender lists in the future and encouraging survivors to behave accordingly when the boot is on the other foot. Contractors in their turn should avoid the temptation of following the more foolhardy in their race to the bottom on pricing, T&T warned. If the construction industry and its clients are encouraged by the harsh experience of a pandemic that has affected us all to increase collaborative ways of working in future, that would be an extremely positive outcome.

Recent surveys of industry demand are still finding some bright spots, such as health and social care, data centres and life sciences, all areas that steel construction has a long track record in serving well. Other areas of firm demand include sheds for logistics centres and industrial-related buildings.

Infrastructure investment looks like featuring more prominently than recently in the workloads of the coming period. In News this month we have an encouraging story about the first permanent structure to be installed on the HS2 railway project, a steel road bridge to carry traffic over the M42, which represents a significant project milestone. Typically for a steel bridge, it was fabricated offsite and installed without a hitch, with minimum disruption and in just two days. HS2 is the largest transport-related project undertaken in the UK for some years and will feature many steel structures along what will be its eventual 530 kilometre length.

Education has been hit hard by the country’s lockdown and with schools across the UK now reopened it is encouraging to see in News a story about Tata Steel developing with industry partners highly energy-efficient schools that will be built offsite, and with all the other advantages of steel. This supports the government’s plan to modernise the country’s schools, with £1 billion in funding allocated to the first 50 projects. Interesting times are ahead for offsite fabrication which will be a growing feature of future workloads, one in which steel construction will be prominent.

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