Scaffolding Association CEO discusses navigating the way through Covid-19

In this Comment piece, Robert Candy, CEO of the Scaffolding Association, talks about the uncertain journey that our sector must now travel.

Having provided unprecedented financial support to businesses during the Covid-19 pandemic, the Government is now releasing the country from lockdown in its bid to stimulate the economy and achieve some sort of normality. The 2-metre social distancing rule is to be dropped in favour of a 1-metre-plus strategy, we will be able to socialise in groups of six, and a week in the South of France may no longer be just a dream!

Many will be relieved at the easing of these measures, seeing light at the end of the tunnel having struggled through lockdown – others will rightfully feel concerned by the speed at which the changes are being implemented and fear a spike in infections. The virus is by no means defeated – some areas around the world are experiencing significant rises in reported cases, with worrying clusters appearing throughout mainland Europe. Most of the UK population seem to be continuing careful behaviour, but over-packed beaches and unlicensed parties gain much media coverage.

The scaffolding industry appears to have had varying levels of success throughout the pandemic. Some contractors have struggled to survive having already been teetering on the edge of failure prior to the implementation of the lockdown. Unfortunately, this is not a big surprise – being regularly beaten down on price, subjected to poor payment practices by clients and finding their overheads unmanageable, it is sadly inevitable that some would ‘throw in the towel’.

Most companies have been able to remain operational, having gained access to Government funding and taken advantage of the CITB Levy suspension to ease cashflow. But while remaining open they have had to implement a myriad of changes and ensure that they are clearly communicating enhanced safety provisions with their staff and supply chain.

There have been some wonderfully inspiring stories of scaffolding companies doing their utmost to make a positive contribution to society – donating PPE stocks to the NHS, using contacts to import face masks from China, raising funds for food bank charities and working on important projects to support key infrastructure. I feel that our sector has presented itself in a light that can only enhance our standing in the wider construction community.

A number have exploited the opportunity that the pandemic presented to re-evaluate, re-position and even strengthen. Scaling back operations has allowed some companies to re-think their operational strategy, streamline their processes and develop business contingency and continuity plans that will make them much more resilient in the future.

One thing that remains sure is that the financial support that the industry has benefited from to survive from March until June will have to be paid back at some point in the future.  We must hope that the nation’s economy can steady itself, recover, and grow again.