President’s column – June 2023
As my time as BCSA President is ending, it’s natural for me to reflect on the past three years in office and the challenging times we have all faced.
I was elected BCSA President in June 2020 at the start of the pandemic. Back then we were in lock-down and even our AGM was online. I reported that GDP had fallen by 20.4% in April 2020 and the construction sector had fallen by a massive 44%. We didn’t know when the pandemic was going to end, or what its effect would be on mortality and if a vaccination was possible. The Job Retention scheme was in place, and we all learnt a new word, ‘furlough’, with many businesses taking advantage of this scheme and laying off staff on 80% pay. We were also talking about CIBLS (Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme) and reverse VAT.
Fortunately, a vaccination was developed, rolled out very quickly and the restrictions began to be lifted. Things started to improve, but at the 2021 AGM I reported that in 2020 GDP fell by 9.9% and this was the worse fall for over 300 years. The positive news was that the sector was expected to grow by 16.2% in 2021 and 10.6% in 2022. I’m sure we all remember the ‘boom’ and the material shortages in 2021/22.
I was hoping that I’d have something more normal to report at the 2022 AGM but sadly no. Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022 and that resulted in massive increases in energy prices and large fluctuations in steel prices, seemingly increasing by £100/tonne on a monthly basis.
We are all now very familiar with the cost-of-living crises, high inflation, and high interest rates. But fortunately, there appears to be some green shoots with energy prices coming down and inflation forecast to be 5% or lower by the end of the year.
BCSA has continued to support the industry throughout the last three years and some of the major developments include the 7th edition of the NSSS, along with an updated Commentary and a new Annex J Sustainability Specification.
Sustainability is now front and centre, as we tackle the climate emergency, and BCSA is playing its part with the 2050 Decarbonisation Roadmap, an updated Sustainability Charter, a series of carbon footprinting tools to help members measure and reduce their emissions and a model specification for the purchase of re-used steel.
In 2022 the Building Safety Act became law which introduced some of the most important changes to the construction of buildings in a generation. One key change was a requirement for all those involved in the design and construction of buildings to demonstrate their competence and capability. In response, BCSA updated, improved and simplified its Register of Qualified Steelwork Contractors (Buildings), and opened the new scheme up to non-members in April 2023. BCSA also revised the 7th edition of the NSSS to introduce this new assessment scheme for steelwork contractors to demonstrate their competence and capability in the fabrication of structural steelwork, and make it mandatory from 2nd October 2023.
It’s fair to say that my three years as BCSA President have been some of the most difficult years the country and our industry have seen. What has impressed me though is the resilience of our constructional steelwork industry and the BCSA. We have met all of these challenges and emerged stronger.