Many construction workers would have been sat having their tea or as well-deserved can as the UK government was finally nudged into announcing a lockdown last night. It was something that doctors, unions, ambulance drivers, nurses, service-industry workers and retail employees countrywide had been calling for all week. Some, many politicians included, had been calling for it all month.
But, these same construction workers were left confused and cut-off by the government’s comms policy, along with all those involved in building or maintenance work.
Were they key workers? Was that block of flats necessary? And who is going to pay the sub-contractors and self-employed if the building works cease? What about on-site canteens, bathrooms and handwashing facilities?
Michael Gove sought to clarify and just confused everyone further still. He simply told everyone to stay two-metres apart, having obviously never seen a building site or its workings. But this is fairly standard for this government. Every message has to be amended, re-jigged and sent out again, until it sticks or is withdrawn.
As someone who works a lot in comms for and around construction companies, builders, architects and developers, I am seeing plenty of frustration out there. Plumbers don’t know if they can mend a tap, carpenters don’t know how to stay two-metres away from their mate and brickies don’t know whether to lay down their trowel.
Site builders are more than familiar with PPE and on-site safety, but even that cannot stop the spread of Covid-19, just as it cannot stop the spread on the way in on the trains and tubes. They are inevitably putting each other at risk and others at risk, too. But they need to know that they are financially secure.
Meanwhile, developers and site managers don’t know how and if they can pay their teams of contractors and sub-contractors. If work stops then does their bank pull the plug? Who owes what to whom?
There is now a whole new list of things that those in the construction and maintenance sector need clarification on. A lot of those in the industry are already living week-to-week. They need more than Universal Credit to get by, that is for sure.
For a government that has been accused of being all message and all substance then they need to at least get the messaging right, or the health of the industry and the nation will both suffer.
It’s time to close the sites and provide financial assistance at every level.