Sites close as self-employed seek financial assurance

The number of developers and construction firms closing sites is growing, even though Government said they could stay open, while self-employed contractors await a financial support package due to be announced later today. 

Brian Berry, chief executive of the Federation of Master Builders, called on Chancellor Rishi Sunak to support the self-employed. He said: “The Chancellor must avoid any halfway house measures and ensure that he delivers equal support for the self-employed as those on PAYE. 

“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.” 

On Tuesday evening health minister Matt Hancock said that construction sites could stay open as long as Public Health England advice on social distancing and safety precautions were followed. 

However, despite housing secretary Robert Jenrick reiterating Hancock’s message, many construction firms and developers have taken the decision to close sites to ensure the safety of workers. 

Housebuilders Taylor Wimpey and Barratt Homes were among the first to announce that they would be closing their sites and they have since been followed by a raft of others including, Bam Construction, which said it would pause construction but hoped to reopen sites on Monday, and Renaker which said it would close its sites from Friday. 

A spokesperson for Bam said: “Enabling the safest working conditions requires more time for detailed discussions and collaboration with clients, employees and our supply chain.

“Where work can be delivered according to these guidelines, it is anticipated that sites will re-start from Monday 30 March. This date will be kept under constant review.” 

Meanwhile some firms, including Willmott Dixon, which is currently on site at Rochdale Riverside retail development, have taken the decision to keep work going, satisfied that they can adhere to the guidelines set out by Public Health England. 

Concerns over the practicality of enforcing such guidelines on construction sites have been called into question, with the Federation of Master Builders calling it “almost impossible” and workers taking to social media to express their fears. 

In addition, Construction Enquirer reported today that it had been contacted by a number of sub-contractors who claimed they had been threatened with damages if they did not come to work. 

With many sites already closed and others falling in line, firms must now hope that they can survive this barren period and that they won’t be punished for closing sites in the name of safety. 

Berry, said: “There is a clear appetite for greater Government support among builders. 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.” 

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