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Clippings and Musings – March 2017 – Helen Duval

Politics still continues to dominate our news with Philip Hammond sending shockwaves through all sectors after his introduction of a National Insurance levy on self-employed profits, which was due to increase to 10% next year and then further still to 11% in 2019.

Introduced by Mr Hammond to address multi-billion pound shortfalls in NI contributions, Anna Soubry MP considered that abandoning promises regarding this from the 2015 manifesto, in order to raise £2bn from entrepreneurs by the end of the current Parliament, would lead to great unpopularity as the first U-turn by this Government.

Then we were left in no doubts as to Mr Hammond’s belief in his new system as he substantiated this point of view by dropping his plans completely. It gives you such faith doesn’t it? Initially, this change was to be introduced to address the shortfall in NI, as people increasingly choose to work for themselves. I’m so confused …but at least some of those smaller wheels in the manufacturing industry will be able to breathe a sigh of relief.

Talking of which, perhaps we all need a little light relief. The “executive toy” sector actually does have an important place on many roomy office desks. While most people think of them as the Newton’s Cradles or Zen gardens with their little rakes, these are apparently extremely important objects that serve to offer refuge and distraction from the pressures of high powered decision making and associated stress.

Cluttered though these executive desks may be, the ‘toys’ do in fact have important functions that are supposed to offer diversions and relieve stress.

Twitter, emails and office treadmills do not provide the solutions to clear the mind apparently and increasingly bosses are looking to build and add to their executive toy portfolios….this could be incredibly good news for Morgan, Aston Martin and Bentley.

But back to business and although the long term view is uncertain for the UK, now we can see that growth us up and borrowing has come down. Well, that’s what Mr Hammond tells us, so it must be right. It is very positive news that Britain as a whole is performing better than expected, however Brexit is yet to hit and now we have the SNP looking for even more change. Time will tell I guess.

One of the better announcements from the budget relates to the introduction of T Levels for more vocational training. Is it me or is that just another reinvention of a wheel that was rolled out about 30 years ago? I hope at least it will give some inspiration to those looking at coming into the sector, with focus on learning a skill and putting in a little elbow grease. For now the skills shortage will still be a major issue for many companies within the construction sector, until this has really started to take effect.

It’s Showtime!

Redefining sustainability was the mantra from the Ecobuild campaign this year, where Regeneration was the main focus for the event, which was held at London’s Excel from 7th – 9th March.

The exhibition’s conference programme tackled this topic with future growth sectors and the housing crisis both key subjects up for discussion. Of course, Brexit was a major talking point with Lord Foster of Bath leading the way at The Arena, raising awareness about what it means for the construction industry.

More than 20,000 industry professionals took time out to visit Ecobuild this year, where the latest innovations from around 450 exhibitors were on show to highlight areas that would help to tackle problems that are arising in the built environment.

The Rising Star Award was given to Clara Bagenal George, from Elementa Consulting, who is passionate about the environment and how we live in it. From her initial campaign that challenged the use of single use carrier bags, her enthusiasm has resulted in the production of innovative design tools and charitable campaigns which has also led her to challenging established planning policies. No mean feats at all and a well deserved win.

Meanwhile runner up Ben Hopkins, from Bennetts Architects, made a strong impression on the judges with innovative communication techniques, ideas and incentives that will reinforce the value of sustainability. Having spoken to a colleague who works for one London borough council, it would be nice to see more consideration given to bin recycling space on new housing projects, where currently planners tend to work within the bounds of what is a ‘bare essential’ rather than what is in fact necessary.

Tony Pidgley called for red tape to be slashed in relation to sustainable housing, which topped the agenda on day one of the show. Transport and affordable housing were the discussions of the day for Ben Derbyshire who pledged his support to create 70,000 new homes in the outer suburbs of London.

There were many new product launches along with live demonstrations from a wide range of exhibitors and their associated partners, with architects and specifiers using the Ecobuild platform to tackle some critical industry issues.

As the final day focussed on Brexit and its impact the construction industry is now reflecting deeply about autonomous cars and the future of urban transport.

Helen Duval 2017

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