NI builders hit by COVID-19

Lack of guidance on social distancing rules for small building sites leads to confusion, as job losses amongst small building firms already underway says the Federation of Master Builders.

Federation of Master Builders (FMB) NI director Gavin McGuire says the UK-wide survey results in relation to COVID-19 published today (19th March 2020) reflect the concerns of the NI membership “in very similar numbers”.

The survey gives an indication of what impact the virus is having on the residential construction sector:

The FMB represents small and medium sized builders with 7,500 members UK-wide including 300 members in NI.

“Support needs to be given with cash flow and [securing] the pipeline of work,” McGuire said. “The survey results point to real issues and our asks will be the same of Stormont [as of Westminster]”. These include:

1. Provide a three month tax holiday on VAT, PAYE and CIS payments. The Government must also delay the implementation of Reverse Charge VAT by one year;

2. Extend the £25,000 cash grant currently only provided to retail and hospitality to construction firms;

3. Provide the equivalent rate of Statutory Sick Pay to the self-employed who fill 37 per cent of industry jobs; 

4. Ensure that the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme is quick and easy to use, and is launched as soon as possible.

Builders working in the domestic sector simply cannot work from home and are already feeling the impact of the pandemic as a result.

The FMB is also calling on the UK Government to help employers keep their apprentices; provide clarification to builders and householders whether social distancing means all domestic building work must stop even if all concerned are well; and start to issue construction industry-specific guidance.

Brian Berry, Chief Executive of the FMB, said: “The [UK] Government has overlooked the market in which small builders operate. Builders working in the domestic sector simply cannot work from home and are already feeling the impact of the pandemic as a result. The Government must intervene as a matter of urgency if small building companies are to protect their workforces, avoid further job losses, and prevent building companies going to the wall.” 

Berry continued: “We musn’t allow a repeat of the 2008 recession when one in three SME construction firms left the industry. Building new homes and levelling-up infrastructure will be key to rebuilding our economy after the virus has passed, and the Government will need an army of builders in place to deliver that.”

Berry concluded: “The FMB is supporting its 7,500 members during this difficult time, through its dedicated helplines, tailored communication and guidance, and insurance services. We are also working closely with the Construction Leadership Council (CLC) as well as other industry bodies to ensure the industry is united through this crisis. I’m calling on the Government to match our efforts and ramp up their support for builders immediately.”

Main Photo by Henry & Co. on Unsplash

UPDATE 20 March 2020: ROI’s Construction Industry Federation (CIF) issued a press release stating: “Many [construction] companies have embedded social distancing into their daily routines including measures such as staggered work, social distancing in canteens, employees taking lunch individually and individual travel. They now run induction talks on entry to work and hold regular ‘toolbox’ talks to constantly reinforce new safety guidelines. Building sites are complex workplaces and employers and employees are working together to addresses any issues of concern that arise.”

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Written by Astrid Madsen

Astrid Madsen is the editor of the SelfBuild magazine. Email

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