Scottish plant hire sector expresses coronavirus concerns to ministers
The different message from the Scottish Government regarding the construction industry compared to the rest of the UK is causing frustration throughout the country, the Scottish Plant Owners Association (SPOA) has said.
In a letter to Scottish Government ministers, including First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, SPOA committee member Paul McCormack has outlined the challenges and worries of the Scottish plant hire industry during the current COVID-19 outbreak.
The SPOA is a trade association whose members are all interested in the business of owning and hiring plant used in the UK construction industry. There are more than 250 member businesses/organisations.
In the letter, Mr McCormack, who is also managing director at Blackwood Plant Hire Ltd, wrote: “We currently are facing unprecedented times with the coronavirus pandemic and feel that the different message from the Scottish Government regarding the construction industry compared to the rest of the UK is causing frustration throughout Scotland.
“On Friday, Taylor Wimpey & Persimmon Homes announced that they will be re-starting construction sites next week 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. 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.”
Mr McCormack said that while the sector is “well aware well of the risks with coronavirus” there now is guidance given from the UK Government and Construction Leadership Council on how to work safely on site.
He added: “If sites can re-start 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 does 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 Councils 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 re-start?
“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.”
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