Hardware stores, plant and tool hire outlets exempt from closure, govt confirms

GOVERNMENT ministers have confirmed that hardware shops and equipment, plant and tool hire retail businesses are exempt from closure during the COVID-19 crisis.

While many non-essential retailers have been forced to close - including the likes of hairdressers and beauty salons - notable exceptions have been made for retail businesses that provide essential services such as car garages, supermarkets and veterinary surgeries.

Hardware stores and equipment businesses, along with plant and tool hire services, have now been officially named among the essential retailers allowed to continue trading during the coronavirus pandemic.

Previously, guidance was unclear regarding closure of these businesses, many of which are critical to keeping the country operational and supporting vital services like the NHS.

Graham Arundell, CEO at Hire Association Europe, commented on LinkedIn: “There is still a great need to provide equipment for maintenance and support of NHS and critical infrastructure. However, some members working to maintain support of the national Covid-19 effort were getting unwarranted criticism in the media for continuation of operations.

“Consequently we took this up with government, who recognised the vital part of the hire sector, and the designated premises list was altered to include equipment, plant and tool hire.”

He went on to stay that remaining open would be a choice for each business rather than a decision to be made by a trade body on the industry’s behalf.

"Those businesses that continue to trade will prioritise the safety and wellbeing of their staff and customers by following guidance from Public Health England in relation to safeguarding and social distancing," Mr Arundell added.

The updated official guidance regarding closure of certain businesses and venues can be found HERE.

Self employed workers' relief at government aid

CHANCELLOR Rishi Sunak today announced a support package for many self-employed people across the country.

The Government will provide grants of up to £2,500 a month, to be paid in a single lump sum, although this will not begin to arrive until June at the earliest.

The Chanellor claimed that 95% of people who earn most of their income as self-employed would be covered.

The Government has weathered repeated calls to provide for self-employed workers since it announced plans for 80% wage subsidies for staff kept on by employers last week.

Brian Berry, chief executive of the FMB, welcomed the news saying: “Construction workers across the country will now be taking a collective sigh of relief knowing they will now be protected in the sme way that employees will be if they lose work due to COVID-19.

"I am delighted that the Chancellor has heeded our calls to be generous with his offer to the self-employed, who make up almost 40% of those working in the construction industry. Building companies will now also be able to close sites to protect workers and public health without having to worry about the losses faced by self-employed workers on those sites.

"We now urge the Treasury and HMRC to ensure that all support packages are up and running as soon as physically possible.”

FMB backs calls to stop non-essential construction

THE Federation of Master Builders (FMB) has backed calls for the Government to close construction sites doing non-essential, non-emergency work - thereby granting them financial support - during the coronavirus crisis.

It also reiterated that self-employed should receive financial support from the Government as well.

New research conducted by the FMB has found that:

  • More than half (60%) of builders have already ceased between 76% and 100% of their work;
  • Of those, 80% are in the domestic repair, renovation and maintenance sector.
  • Almost two-thirds (63%) of builders believe that the Government is not doing enough to support them;
  • 80% of builders would apply for the £25,000 grant, currently only available to retail, leisure and hospitality firms, if it were made available to them; 
  • Of those 303 firms who said that they would apply, they employ a total of just under 2,000 people (1,956) and most commonly said that the grant would help them survive another two to three months.

Brian Berry, chief executive of the FMB, said: “Most FMB members have already taken the lead and ceased the majority of their work. It is almost impossible to follow Public Health England’s social distancing advice on many sites, and it would therefore be safer to close them.”

“However, the Government must ensure that these firms don’t face a cliff-edge while doing the right thing and should ensure that grants of £25,000 are made available and that ample support is extended to the self-employed who represent 37% of construction jobs.”

“No one should have to choose between feeding their family and protecting their health and yet that is the position many builders currently find themselves in. There is a clear appetite for greater Government support among builders, as demonstrated by the fact that 80% would apply if grants were available.

"Later today, the Chancellor must avoid any halfway house measures and ensure that he delivers equal support for the self-employed as those on PAYE. This package needs to cover the breadth of people who are self-employed not just a select few.”

www.fmb.org.uk

Government update clarifies work sites may remain open

THE government updated the guidance on their website for working through the current COVID-19 pandemic, which can be read in full HERE.

The new guidance clarifies that construction sites may remain open and tradespeople carrying out important repairs and maintenance may continue to operate - as long as they follow the appropriate instructions.

 

WHICH BUSINESSES NEED TO CLOSE?

On Monday, 23 March, MP Boris Johnson ordered certain businesses were to close. These include:

  • Pubs, cinemas and theatres;
  • Retail stores selling non-essential items;
  • Libraries, youth centres and community centres;
  • Restaurants and nightclubs;
  • Indoor and outdoor leisure facilities;
  • Hotels.

A full list of businesses ordered to close - as well as exemptions to the order - can be found HERE.

The government has not required any business which is not on this list to close.

 

CONSTRUCTIONS SITES

Construction sites are not on the list of businesses ordered to close, and thus may remain open. Workers who are unable to work from home are permitted to travel to get to and from work.

However, employers on construction sites should still ensure they are following the Public Health England guidelines, which can be found HERE. This includes ensuring workers regualrly wash their hands with soap for 20 seconds and maintain a 2 meter distance wherever possible.

The Construction Leadership Council has published Site Operating Procedures, developed by Build UK, which gives advice for construction companies remaining open.

 

TRADESPEOPLE

Work that must be carried out in people's homes is also permitted and such workers are allowed to travel to get to and from work.

However, no work should be done in the property of someone who is isolating  "unless it is to remedy a direct risk to the safety of the household, such as emergency plumbing or repairs", and only if the worker consents.

No work should be carried out by any worker who displays any coronavirus symptoms at all.

Workers should also consult the Public Health England guidelines, which can be found HERE.

The Construction Leadership Council releases Site Operating Procedures during COVID-19

THE Construction Leadership Council has stepped forward to produce a guide, titled Site Operating Procedures, for builders who are continuing essential work while the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread.

Many workers have been left confused as current events have moved faster than our ability to prepare for them.

In a statement posted to their website, Andy Mitchell co-chair of the Construction Leadership Council said of the launch of Site Operating Procedures:

"We are in exceptional circumstances, and are doing our utmost to keep construction sites operational wherever it is practical and safe to do so. Whilst the guidance from Public Health England may change in future, for the time being construction sites of any size that are operating during the Coronavirus Covid-19 pandemic need to ensure they are protecting their workforce and minimising the risk of spread of infection.

"To implement the Government’s social distancing recommendation the Construction Leadership Council has now published Site Operating Procedures. I would strongly recommend that these procedures are implemented by every operational construction site, with the aim of us having a standard approach across the industry that all firms and workers can adopt.

"It is also vital that the health and safety requirements of any construction activity must not be compromised at this time. If an activity cannot be undertaken safely due to a lack of suitably qualified personnel being available, or social distancing being implemented, it should not take place. We are aware that emergency services are also under great pressure and may not be in a position to respond as quickly as usual."

You can view and download the document HERE.

HHIC issue advice to heating engineers on working during COVD-19 crisis

FOLLOWING a month of unprecedented upheaval, the Heating and Hotwater Industry Council (HHIC) has released a statement offering advice and clarity for baffled heating engineers.

The government have been increasingly urging people to socially isolate themselves to help arrest the spread of the coronavirus (CORVID-19) pandemic. Last night (Monday 23 March), PM Boris Johnson went further than ever by declaring it a national emergency and banning social events.

Work in essential sectors is still permitted, but many key workers are still searching for guidance on how to go about their work.

The statement can be viewed in full below:

 

The global pandemic COVID-19 has had unprecedented effects on the lives of us all. These are unchartered times causing untold uncertainty and fear amongst us all. The heating and plumbing industry carry out essential frontline work to maintain the supply of heating and hot water to UK homes, schools, hospitals and businesses. It cannot simply cease to operate.

Therefore, the heating industry has identified a number of actions that frontline engineers- who are currently still operating - can take to help protect themselves and their customers during the COVD-19 outbreak. These are based on Government recommendations, which change daily. HHIC will keep this page as up to date as possible.

Key considerations:

  • When discussing an appointment with your customer/s, ask if they or any occupants are self-isolating, displaying any symptoms of COVID19, and/or have received a positive diagnosis.
  • Where the householders are not self-isolating, displaying any symptoms, and have not been diagnosed with COVID19, there is no reason not to undertake the planned work, whilst exercising general best practice in line with the latest Government guidance for the public: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/coronavirus-covid-19-information-for-the-public
  • If householders are, then there is a need to consider the nature of the work, and also the vulnerability of the householders. Additional precautions should be taken if the work is to proceed, which could include additional PPE, such as disposable overalls, disposable gloves, eye protection, and suitable face mask.
  • Government guidance is continually evolving, but be especially vigilant of those persons currently identified as most at risk, such as the over-70’s, and/or with underlying health issues.
  • As well as protecting yourself, and householders, you should also consider the welfare of any colleagues, especially if they fall into one of the vulnerable categories.

Practical steps to take when working in the field:

  • On the day of the work, call ahead to your customer to ask if they or any occupants have signs of the virus, have been diagnosed, or are self-isolating, and to check that they are comfortable with your visit to take place.
  • Explain to your customers what you will be doing, and why, and that you will need to maintain a safe distance from them (2m or 6 steps away is current Government advice), including when waiting for the customer to open the door.
  • Do not shake hands with the customer or other occupants.
  • Ask if the occupants can stay in another room, away from the work area(s) whilst the work proceeds, and with permission ventilate the work area where appropriate, e.g. by opening a window.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly for at least 20 seconds, at the start of the job and after (also during the work). It is recommended to carry your own hand-towel with your equipment. Wash/replace hand-towel at end of each day/shift.
  • Use an alcohol-based hand sanitiser that contains at least 60% alcohol if soap and water are not available.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Wear suitable work gloves.
  • If you feel unsafe or at risk at any point, undertake a personal risk assessment and leave the premises if necessary. You can re-plan for a future date if appropriate, after ensuring everything is made safe.
  • Customer/Engineer signature – is this required by the work?....can it be avoided, or an electronic copy can be sent on the day, or at a later date (use and/or sharing of pens, tablets or mobile phones may pose a risk of contamination/infection).

Job completion

  • Wipe down any operational rubber gloves, tools and instruments used within the premises;
  • Remove and place into a plastic bag any wipes, disposable gloves and overalls used, whilst trying not to cross-contaminate onto existing clothes or persons;
  • Do not touch your face;
  • Ensure you then clean/wash your hands, and where possible/appropriate any reusable PPE (e.g. safety glasses), using soap and water, or use suitable hand sanitizer on hands before moving to your next job;
  • At the end of each day and following the appropriate local waste regulations dispose of any bagged waste in line with any existing business process and/or Government guidance

*Note- this guidance is to assist the business/individual. It does not form an official process.

www.hhic.org.uk

Lighthouse keeps shining for workers in crisis

THE Lighthouse Construction Industry Charity, which provides the 24/7 confidential Constrction Industry Helpline, has released a statement urging workers affected by the recent pandemic not to forget them in times of trouble.

The helplines provides a first point of contact for employers and employees who require extra assistance with matter of finance, occupational health and mental wellbeing.

The statement comes as many workers report hightened anxiety about work, finances, as well as mental health issues stemming from social isolation.

The statement can be read below:

 

During these difficult and uncertain times we would like to reassure everyone that our 24/7 Construction Industry Helpline and complementary app are still fully operational to support our construction families in crisis. All calls are free and 100% confidential.

If you have been affected by the impact of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) please do not hesitate to get in touch with us and we will support you and your family in any way we can.

For companies wanting to ensure that their employees know where to turn to for help, our helpline packs can still be ordered and will be dispatched to you as a matter of urgency.

In the meantime, the postponement of our many events and fundraising activities across the country is having a devastating impact on our expected income. So, now more than ever, we need companies to pledge an annual donation and become a Company Supporter so that we can continue our vital work during these extraordinary times. Please help us to help our own and ensure that no worker is left alone in a crisis.

More information can be found at www.lighthouseclub.org/lighthouse-company-supporter/

YOU CAN CALL THE CONSTRUCTION INDSTRY HELPLINE ON 0345 605 1956

OR VISIT www.constructionindustryhelpline.com

 

CEA weighs Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s first Budget

EARLIER today (Wednesday 11 March), Chancellor Rishi Sunak delivered his first Budget to Parliament, announcing the government’s spending plans for the following financial year.

Key points from the Budget include:

  • a £5bn emergency response fund to support the NHS in the wake of the Coronavirus outbreak; 
  • drastic changes in subsidies for red diesel (Deisel used in off-road vehicles);
  • over £600bn to be spent on roads, rail, broadband and housing by the middle of 2025; and 
  • £27bn for motorways and other key roads, including a new tunnel for the A303 near Stonehenge.

 

Rob Oliver, chief executive of the Construction Equipment Association (CEA), issued the following reaction:

 

Rishi Sunak’s first budget statement was rightly underpinnedby action to address coronavirus crisis concerns – something that has an immediate effect on lives and livelihoods. Beyond this there were some good and bad aspects for the construction industry.

Short term measures

The estimated one million small businesses that serve the UK construction industry will receive some welcome short term relief on sick pay obligations and business interruption loans. We don’t yet know, of course, if this will in any way compensate for the possible scale of business disruption over the next few months.

Infrastructure investment

The announcement of £27 billion of investment in the country’s strategic roads network was most welcome – and we will look forward to seeing the detail of this. In his closing remarks, the Chancellor recognised that there was more work to do on the national infrastructure strategy. As recently witnessed over the legal block to the Heathrow expansion, the government refused to support a key infrastructure project.The full promised investment could get delayed or watered down by planning or court constraints unless government really commits. A good opportunity to “get it done”.

Red diesel tax concession to go in 2022

The Chancellor was entirely selective with his statistics in suggesting that off-road red diesel users were responsible for 10% of air pollutants. Ironically, motor vehicles, as the much bigger polluters, will face no tax hike and drivers will continue to pay about 10% less for their fuel compared to the start of the year. The CEA is justifiably proud that its members have reduced harmful engine emissions by over 90%, which coupled with improved fuel consumption is a “green” success. 

Government has promised to consult on the application of this tax change and the CEA looks forward to being part of this process, particularly in support of plant hire companies and contractors who will be alongside us in delivering the promised infrastructure revolution.

www.thecea.org.uk

Two-thirds of builders ask Chancellor to cut VAT, says FMB

AHEAD of the Chancellor’s first Budget on Wednesday 11 March, the Federation of Master Builders (FMB) is calling on the Government to cut VAT on home repair and renovation works to boost economic growth nationwide and help level up across the country.

As well as helping to kick start order books, a VAT cut would support local builders’ contribution to the UK’s net zero carbon emissions target by 2050 and preserve Britain’s built heritage.

In its pre-Budget submission to HM Treasury, the FMB, the largest trade association in the UK construction industry, is calling for the labour-element of VAT to be cut from 20% to 5% on repair and renovation works on domestic dwellings. 

Brian Berry, Chief Executive of the FMB, said: “The new Chancellor has a unique opportunity in his first Budget to signal a green, positive outlook for builders who are critical to delivering the homes and infrastructure this country needs.” 

“The fact that nearly two-thirds (59%) of builders say cutting VAT would boost their business sends  a clear message to the Government that if it is wants to deliver sustained economic growth in our building industry this is the single best policy change to achieve that.”

In new data released by the FMB today, 212 out of 357 small to medium-sized building companies sampled told us that the new Government could best support the construction industry by using new freedoms granted by the UK’s exit from the European Union to cut VAT. 

Cutting VAT will also encourage homeowners to invest in the sorts of renovation and retrofit work that the country will need if it is to meet the Government’s target of bringing all homes up to EPC Band C by 2035. Currently just 29% of households meet this test. 

Brian Berry said: “We need a National Retrofit Strategy that sends homeowners and landlords a strong signal to invest in their properties, reduce costs, and cut carbon. Cutting VAT is the key to unlock this and set us on track to achieve Net Zero by 2050 by saving almost 240,000 tonnes of CO2 from 92,000 homes. That means we need to urgently insulate eight million lofts, eight million solid walls and five million cavity walls. Making homeowners more likely to take these steps by cutting VAT would give the Government a good news story ahead of hosting the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) later this year.”

A cut in VAT would also help reverse the trend of left-behind areas and delivering the Government’s commitments to invest in place making. The Government should take up the recommendations of its own Building Better Building Beautiful Commission and align the tax requirements for new and existing buildings.

In its pre-Budget submission, the FMB is also calling on the Government to:

  • Support small to medium-sized house builders by reforming planning fees;
  • Create incentives for low-carbon house builder pioneers; and
  • Review and reform the UK Apprenticeship Levy to ensure construction has the skills it needs.

Wilko to support National Home Improvement Month 2020

HOME and garden retailer, wilko, which has 417 stores across the UK, is to support National Home Improvement Month, BHETA’s industry-wide consumer-facing marketing initiative, now in its third year.

It will be the first multiple retailer to sign up to the campaign which will run throughout April. Wilko’s involvement follows on from a successful Meet the Buyer event held by BHETA back in November 2019.

Keeley Vernon, BHETA’s sector manager for DIY & Home Improvement who is driving the campaign commented: “It is fantastic to have wilko, a major retailer on board for 2020. Its engagement provides a great opportunity within our industry not only for the wilko brand, but also for BHETA’s supplier members and for the consumer; and will elevate the campaign to new level. Everyone at BHETA is very much looking forward to working with wilko on this new opportunity; and raising the profile of National Home Improvement Month!”

As in previous years, National Home Improvement Month is all about inspiring and enabling consumers to get back into home improvement, make more of their garden and outdoor space, or have fun with new-style DIY, craft, and upcycling. The month-long initiative is intended to make the most of the key sales period over Easter for home improvement tools and consumables.

National Home Improvement Month uses the tagline ‘Love The Home You Live In’. Online and broadcast features will be backed through social media and in national and regional consumer media. A package of point of sale and support material will again be available.

As a BHETA sponsored initiative, suppliers and distributors wanting to get involved need to be, or become, members of BHETA to participate. Any supplier, distributor or retailer who would like more information about the campaign should contact BHETA’s home improvement sector manager, Keeley Vernon at BHETA on 0121 237 1130 or email  [email protected].

www.bheta.co.uk.

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