Scottish plant owners seek answers over reopening of sites

THE Scottish Plant Owners Association (SPOA) has written to the Scottish Government seeking answers to why the construction industry north of the border is being advised to take a different approach to that in England when it comes to the reopening of sites.

The letter, signed by SPOA executive committee member and Blackwood Plant Hire MD Paul McCormack, described the ‘frustration’ being felt throughout Scotland.

Last week, housebuilders Taylor Wimpey and Persimmon Homes announced plans to restart construction sites in the near future, but not in Scotland until they have guidance from the Scottish Government.

“This reflects their understanding that the first part of the initial Scottish Government advice remains unchanged, namely that all non-essential business premises, sites and attractions should close,” the letter stated. “However, the fuller context of that advice was for closure… unless and until we can all be clear how operations can be undertaken safely and in a way that is fully compliant with social distancing.

“We are well aware of the risks with coronavirus but there now is guidance given from the
UK Government and Construction Leadership Council (chaired by the minister for business
and industry) on how to work safely on site. If sites can restart on the basis of that guidance then we can all get back to work and start putting money back into the economy and allow the self-employed workers to start  supporting their families. At present they are not yet getting any payments from the government unlike employees who remain employed under the furlough scheme.

“The majority of our industry is highly geared with high HP/lease payments that of course
can be stopped by those finance companies who allow a payment holiday but that is only a
deferral. When we restart our businesses we will require cash to pay the increased wages
bills and supplier payments whilst we have to wait on our customers paying ourselves who
will be in the same position after a six-week shutdown.

“In essence, the longer our industry is closed, the fewer businesses will be able to survive. Insolvencies will cause more cost to the government in statutory redundancy payments paid by the National Insurance Fund.

“Overall, the SPOA executive committee do not understand why Scotland can be different
from the rest of the UK. Scottish-based employees are working on sites in England and
following the Construction Leadership Council’s advice on safe working, but the same
employee cannot work on a site in Scotland. Due to this difference the SPOA members are having to re-open our offices in Scotland to support our work in England but really the utilisation of our fleets does not justify reopening our Scottish offices just for that work. However we have to open, to maintain a service to our customers in England or risk losing them to English-based plant hire companies.

“In summary, if the guidance from the UK Government and Construction Leadership Council
is followed, why should construction sites in Scotland not restart? We are looking for clear and concise information from the Scottish Government as to why our industry is being held behind the rest of the UK and a date when you will update the advice about allowing a return to work.”