News | Published April 02 2020

Conneely Group MD calls for government clarity on Covid-19 guidelines

Conneely Group managing director John Cockerton has spoken about his concerns regarding the government's coronavirus guidelines and how different firms are interpreting them differently. In conversation with The Parliamentary Review, Cockerton discusses how Conneely Group has adapted to meet the crisis in comparison to the action taken by different firms, the ensuing discord, and his thoughts on what the government should do to help usher the sector through the crisis.

Cockerton began by explaining how the specialist drylining and facades services provider's projects are subject to operating under the guidelines and how the firm has responded in terms of transportation, social distancing and day-to-day activity.

"We have a number of projects continuing to operate under the new guidelines", Cockerton explained.

"For transportation we issued our company vans & pool cars to our tradesmen , they were living in accommodation together & therefore acted as same household. For the others that needed to use London transport, we negotiated early start times with our clients and earlier completion to avoid rush hour."

Switching focus to on-site activity, Cockerton explained how social distancing measures have been put into practice.

"On site, our clients have actually made the work canteen both takeaway only and free of charge. This way, money does not have to change hands and removes the risk of contamination.

"Each tradesman receives a bag with their breakfast items inside, and later on they are provided with lunch in the same manner, with a self-service tea or coffee.

"Distancing two metres apart on-site has become habit and the chaps have adapted incredibly well".

Further to this, the firm and its clients have shaken-up how they hold meetings and conduct deliveries, too.

"Meetings are shorter in length and are held in the open air rather than in confined spaces", Cockerton said.

"With regards to the deliveries that do come, the driver stays in the cab, one person opens the rear of the vehicle and the material is then fork-lifted off".

As much as these steps have helped Conneely Group continue to operate efficiently, Cockerton lamented the fact that distributors interpreting guidelines differently has had a knock-on effect on the supply chain.

Cockerton said: "Regrettably our deliveries have dried up, as a result of our distributors interpreting the government guidelines differently.

"The consequence of this is that within a few weeks, our on-site stocks will inevitably become depleted and then we too will be forced to close".

Cockerton then made an appeal to the government to offer clarity on the guidelines surrounding construction work, in order to enable it to continue.

"We would ask that government speaks clearly on the issue of construction work continuing.

"They have used clear language for NHS sites, however key worker housing for police, London transport and NHS workers is just as important.

"Equally as important is student accommodation, which is supposed to be ready for when they commence their September studies. It is vital that these students are not displaced for the sake of a few loads of materials being delivered to site."

What Cockerton hopes will be avoided is a complete halt to Conneely's work, which will force a further four-week delay to deliver and load sufficient amounts of material to allow tradesmen to return to work.

Cockerton explained: "This issue of further delay can be avoided by allowing materials for construction to continue to be delivered. The personnel involved are no more or less exposed than Amazon or food deliveries coming to one's house."

He added: "Furthermore, when we do restart, we have to contend with the problem of a transient workforce who may end up displaced and or discouraged.

"We have a labour shortage as an industry already, the issues of which are very well-documented. I urge the government and the industry not to compound it".

In addition, Cockerton believes that having to restart the construction sector from what is essentially a dead point will be a difficult and costly process.

"Construction contributes £23 billion per year in turnover to the UK economy as an epicentre, which virtually every other form of business feeds from.

"Construction, therefore, is the very life blood of the UK economy and must be protected. If we were to attempt to kick-start the industry from a dead start, it would not only be unnecessarily difficult but also come at a mammoth cost of £2 billion per month."

For Cockerton, having to restart construction from a dead point is unthinkable, but given the sector's role in revitalising the UK economy in previous downturns, he believes the government must invest in construction as opposed to letting it slow down, in order to help the economy through the crisis.

"The UK government is very aware that construction has been responsible for rebooting and breathing new life into the UK economy in every single downturn since the Second World War. When we are 200,000 houses a year short for our current population, the Keynesian economic strategy of spending our way out of a downturn by investing in construction is an absolute no brainer."

Conneely Group's original best practice article in The Parliamentary Review can be read here.

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The Parliamentary Review

April 02 2020

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