A recent article in the Telegraph from Allister Heath, the right-wing business journalist, got me thinking. In his normal, blunt style, he makes a number of good points about how different industries and regions will have to adapt as we come out of the slump occasioned by the coronavirus. This is the key paragraph from his article.
“Our future is as a high-tech, upmarket business services, science, tech and commercial centre: a nimble, highly educated entrepot state, trading with the world and open to ideas, money and talent. But if workplaces become more decentralised, and travel more painful, London’s attraction as a hub location will wane. Billions will be wiped from the value of commercial property: regeneration strategies based on clusters of office buildings won’t work. The construction industry will be hammered. All remaining businesses will be hit with much higher costs to implement safer working practices, leading to reduced investment and lower wages.”
It's not hard to see much of this happening. However, the idea that the construction industry will be “hammered” is not one with which I can agree. Yes, I can see a lot more work being carried out at home and bricks and mortar offices thus becoming less popular, leading to a contraction in the commercial property market, at least in the short term (by which I mean a few years). However, in the same way that lots of businesses are now pivoting to the internet, growing their sales in new ways and finding innovative methods of delivering goods and services, I think that construction will adapt and, given a following wind, prosper. One of the key areas that government wants to see expanding is housebuilding. With more use of new technology (including its use to develop better safe working practices), more use of prefabricated homes and an increase in the speed of delivery, this is surely an opportunity for all construction firms the length and breadth of the UK. Moreover, a successful, massive housebuilding programme would have substantial knock-on effects across so many other areas, from local shops to interior decorators to garden centres – the list is practically endless. It will be those construction firms that think ahead, innovate and introduce cost-effective technological improvements that will be in the vanguard of the sector’s response to this crisis.
Chris Peace, MD, Peace Recruitment