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Building a new future

SELECT Members reveal the impact of COVID-19 on their businesses and discuss what could lie ahead

Site Scaffold on a bright day

Tell us about your business and how it’s been affected by coronavirus

David Harris

David Harris, Director of DMH Electrical and Vice President of SELECT’s Glasgow and West of Scotland branch: We are predominately involved in the construction industry and had to pause trading due to site closures.

We have been on the furlough scheme since 25 March as there was no alternative.

Gavin Ross, Commerical Director of Prime Electrical Group: We have 14 staff and around 30 electricians and currently everyone’s on furlough. Our business is focused on the national housebuilders so when they started to close sites, we had to look at what we were doing. We worked with them to get plots complete because there were clients ready to move in and we didn’t want to leave anyone without a home. We’re now using a subcontractor for emergency call-outs. Trying to procure PPE for him was difficult but we managed to get everything we needed.

Do you have any apprentices? How has it affected them?

Gavin: We carry a range of apprentices from first year right up to pre-FICA stage. Their apprenticeship has been extended which is unfortunate because we look to get them through to electrician status as quickly as possible. The problem we’ll have with apprentices will be health and safety – can we put an electrician with an apprentice when they’re working in close proximity? We’re waiting to get feedback on that from the housebuilders.

David: We have three apprentices, one recently passed his FICA and is due to be graded to electrician, one third stage and one second stage. Apprentice training and practical experience has been interrupted and may mean some extra weeks have to be added to the normal timescale.

Have you had assistance from government schemes?

David: We found the Furlough Scheme easy to use and it has been a great benefit and prevented redundancies. We also received the business grant which contributed towards the business overheads.

Gavin: We’ve used the job retention scheme and we’re grateful for it.

We’re currently reviewing the other schemes. Initially it was a challenge because the information was changing on a daily basis.

What are your plans for returning to work?

Gavin: We’re lucky because we’ve got a large office which makes social distancing easier. Before lockdown, we contacted a company who installed hand sanitiser stations. On-site, it depends on the housebuilder. We’re waiting to see what they say regarding their own health and safety policies.

David: We think there could be a return to work by June, when on-site working will be a new experience. Existing health and safety policies, risk assessments, method statements and recognised working practices will all require to be adapted to take account of coronavirus. We have received good information and advice from various sources including SELECT, the SJIB, the Building Safety Group, HM Government and some of our principal contractors.

What will the challenges be?

David: A safe place of work must be provided and maintained. Staff and the workforce need to be protected during this incredible time. Social distancing will at times prove a challenge to implement, and perhaps not even be possible at all in certain circumstances. Principal contractors, subcontractors and workers alike will have to share mutual concern to minimise the risk of spreading infection through careful planning in line with government recommendations. Until we are back at work and sharing information, ideas and solutions, it will be a slow start.

Gavin: There are operations before ours that require two people to carry them out. We can go in once the house reaches a specific stage, however, are the housebuilders going to be able to build? I don’t think they’ll be able to build at the speed they did before and I don’t think demand will be what it was. We’ve just completed an excellent financial year so we’ve got that behind us but this year won’t be like the last. It’s a case of maintaining the sites we’ve got, delivering a quality service and making sure the electricians are working safely.

What about the future?

David: It’s difficult to predict, there is much work to be restarted and finished off. In between that time, new projects need to get off the ground so there is a follow-on. That will be determined by government, local authorities and the confidence of clients and investors etc.

Gavin: We’re living through history at the moment – our kids and grandkids will be learning about this at school. But it’s different from the recession of 2008. There’s a demand for quality new homes, a desire from developers to build and mortgages are available. It’s consumer confidence that is key. For us, we’re feeling confident, we’re looking to return and to look after our colleagues, friends and family.

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