Utility Skills CEO supports Construction Leadership Council call for No.10 action

The Chief Executive of Energy & Utility Skills has voiced support for the CLC call for assistance for contractors, as the pandemic hits cash flows and bites hard in to the available skilled labour market.

The Chief Executive of Energy & Utility Skills has voiced support for the CLC call for assistance for contractors, as the pandemic hits cash flows and bites hard in to the available skilled labour market.

The Construction Leadership Council has written to Prime Minister Boris Johnson to set out the actions it thinks the government needs to take to stave off business failures.

The measures it is asking for to save cash-strapped businesses in the supply chain include:

  • Suspend PAYE and CIS tax due to HMRC in April and May for construction and consultancy firms and workers with no financial penalty
  • Defer/cancel Apprenticeship Levy payments for the duration of the crisis
  • Government to advise all public sector clients, regulated utilities, and firms in the private sector to expedite cash flow throughout the supply chain
  • Support the directors of micro-businesses, who currently fall between the support provided by the Job Retention Scheme and assistance for the self-employed
  • Direct all government bodies to release all retention monies
  • Extend the £25k SME business continuity grants scheme to the construction sector.

Nick Ellins advised “The points being made by the CLC on behalf of the contractors constructing houses and commercial buildings, apply equally to the vital utility-based contractors that are providing the workforce that underpins as much as 60% of some utility businesses projects and – right now – are on the front line helping keep the UK’s essential gas, power, water and waste management critical services and infrastructure running.”

“We are also calling for common sense, seeking either the suspension of the Apprenticeship Levy tax through the pandemic period where companies are blocked by government rules from even training their apprentices, or a pragmatic extension to the two-year expiry date on the funds within the employers digital accounts, so that they lose nothing, and put as much financial investment back in to their human capital as possible post-incident. This is intellectually easy stuff and yet again HM Treasury is in the spotlight as the ultimate patron of both the Levy and UK infrastructure, so has every lever needed at its disposal to act quickly now with its other departments in government and show thought leadership and good stewardship”.  

“We see it as fair, to ask government and regulators to expect some form of ethical promise and assurance across the pandemic from regulated utilities, so that cash flow is expediated through the supply chain to keep their staff around to serve the sector, vital workforce are not left idle and at threat of furlough because of postponed capital and maintenance contracts, risk is not unfairly passed on to the supply chain and that the ethical and sustainable procurement principles being preached by practitioners in normal times, are being enacted during crisis. We already see every day the premium utilities doing an amazing job to get it right, with no issue at all in protecting their delivery partners and really reaching out to help, so there should be no fear in any CEO signing up to a simple but sincere ethical pandemic commitment.”

“We are looking to see far more explicit recognition by government and regulators for the role that these indirect workers are playing day to day in our communities and streets, fixing and maintaining the services that almost every household is now totally dependent on. The silence for these utility people that are providing the backbone of the UK’s public health infrastructure has been deafening. Simply put, there are many members of the public and even families right now, wondering why these contractors are going out on the streets to work every single day, when the guidance says they should stay at home. With no one in the sponsoring departments or regulators explaining their proud role, but doing so for everything from on-line shopping drivers to tanker drivers, that must change. This is another simple task, costing nothing but genuine words of appreciation, and its not right to just drop it back on trade associations.”

Andy Mitchell, co-chair of the Construction Leadership Council, said in their press release today: “The construction industry is a key strategic sector of the UK economy and is playing a vital role in building and maintaining NHS estates, enabling the transport sector to function, and keeping the lights on in homes around the country.

“It is not an either/or question. The UK economy requires a functioning construction sector that can operate safely during this crisis and will rely upon construction workers and companies to get Britain building once we’ve won the war against covid-19.

“We are calling on the government to take these steps not only to save jobs and companies in the long term, but to ensure our sector can continue to function throughout the weeks and months to come.

“The UK government’s response to this crisis has been bold and necessary. It is time now for it to roll out emergency measures to protect UK construction directly, which is a sector of national strategic importance in good times as well as bad.”