Cross border tension rises
Ministers in showdown with builders planning to resume work
Persimmon says it is following guidance
Scottish government ministers today insisted firms should remain in lockdown after house builder Persimmon became the latest company to announce a phased return to work.
The company said its decision is in response to the UK Government’s objective of getting the construction sector back to work.
Its planned return on 27 April follows Taylor Wimpey’s plan to resume work on 4 May and announcements from Jaguar Land Rover, Aston Martin Lagonda and B&Q that they intend to kickstart a phased return to operations.
The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, Royal Incorporation of Architects Scotland and Chartered Institute of Building have also called for a gradual reopening of non-essential building sites as soon as possible
But the Scottish Government dug in its heels, with housing minister Kevin Stewart saying it would “hope and expect that businesses will comply voluntarily” with its policy on closure.
David Jenkinson, Persimmon CEO, said: “The UK Government has been very clear on the importance of the construction sector to the UK economy and its desire to see activity continue through the current period of crisis, provided appropriate public health measures are adopted.”
Building sites in Scotland are dormant (pic: Terry Murden)
Taylor Wimpey’s shares rose more than 11% on news of its resumption of work and after stating it was adopting detailed new site operating protocols developed in compliance with strict social distancing requirements.
Pete Redfern, chief executive, said: “Our first priority is always the health and safety of our customers, employees, subcontractors and suppliers. We took an early decision at the end of March to close our sites while we assessed in detail how to build homes without compromising on health and safety or quality.
“We are now confident that we have clear plans and processes in place so we can safely start back on site in a phased way beginning on 4 May.”
The Unite union supports the Scottish Government’s decision, while the CBI Scotland says firms which are ‘ready and able’ should be allowed to return to work.
Housing minister Mr Stewart said: “The advice to close all but essential construction sites is based on public health grounds. That remains the Scottish Government’s position.
“We expect all non-essential businesses to adopt a precautionary approach by remaining closed to protect the lives of their workers and their families. On that basis we hope and expect that businesses will comply voluntarily.
“It is only when we are sure the virus is fully under control that we can begin to ease any of the restrictions. In the meantime we are working closely with the industry on plans to restart work safely when the expert advice supports that.”
Persimmon said that the group’s top priority is the health and safety of the public, and its customers, colleagues, sub-contractors and suppliers, and that it continues to closely follow Public Health England’s guidance including instituting and maintaining social distancing practices.
Taylor Wimpey also plans a return to work
Sales teams have continued to serve new and existing customers, making use of online resources, including virtual viewings and digitalised reservation processes.
This has resulted in about 820 gross private sales reservations being secured in the five weeks ended 19 April. Cancellation rates remain at historically low levels.
“Where necessary, and within the bounds of social distancing restrictions, construction work has continued in certain limited instances to complete the construction of new homes to ensure that no customers were left homeless through this period,” it said in a statement.
The group has continued to offer its full support to its suppliers, including making forward funding available where necessary, to help them manage through the crisis and to ensure they are able to recommence supply immediately, once conditions allow.
Nothing is more important to us than the health, safety and wellbeing of the public, our colleagues, sub-contractors and suppliers– David Jenkinson, CEO, Persimmon
It continues to pay all supplier invoices “in a timely manner”, with 95% of invoices being settled within 60 days, in compliance with the requirements of the Prompt Payment Code.
Mr Jenkinson added: “Nothing is more important to us than the health, safety and wellbeing of the public, our colleagues, sub-contractors and suppliers.
“Having spent the last month developing and testing new site protocols that incorporate the necessary social distancing and protective measures, we believe that we are now able to return to site safely and support the UK’s economic recovery from the pandemic.
“These new measures are fully compliant with Government public health guidance and will be strictly enforced by a specialist team, with any individual failing to uphold standards being subject to disciplinary action and removal from site.
Some sites will resume work
“Persimmon’s strong financial liquidity has enabled us to maintain our operational capability through this period by supporting all our colleagues on full pay, which will allow us to reopen sites swiftly, and emerge from the shutdown well-prepared and ready to deliver the new homes the country needs, aided by our strong work in progress position.”
“The commitment from our colleagues throughout this most challenging period, both to the business and to the wider communities in which we work, has been exceptional and I would like to thank them all for their unstinting support.”
The group will announce a trading update for the period from 1 January 2020 to date, on 29 April, ahead of its AGM.