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BESA president warns of “perfect storm” of industry challenges

Limited training support, a need for a strict crackdown on poor payment practices and a lack of certainty on how Brexit may proceed next month are identified among major concerns

BESA president John Norfolk has said specialists working across the HVACR sector are facing a “perfect storm” of political and economic challenges moving into 2020 and beyond.

A failure to create certainty around the direction of Brexit or what its impact will be on key standards was highlighted by Mr Norfolk among major issues facing the sector.

He said these concerns were compounded by fears over a lack of funding to deliver vital training that is required to meet the requirements of a changing HVAC sector during his 2019 President’s Lunch speech delivered in London last week.

Mr Norfolk used his speech to BESA members to criticise what he said was a failure by key political figures to sufficiently understand the severity of what he said were numerous concerns about the economic viability of current building services standards and practices. As a result, well established ambitions to reform the industry to address a need to decarbonise buildings and infrastructure, as well as open up the industry to people of different backgrounds would go unrealised, Mr Norfolk added.

He said that a long-standing need for legislative reform in areas such as payment practices and building safety and enforcement, coupled with a lack of market stability after a failure to determine clear Brexit policy since 2016 was a “catastrophic mess”. 

Mr Norfolk added, “There is so much to do, but we are not being allowed to do it. Our parliament is now suspended. Well the truth is, it had been paralysed for three years. We have lost crucial time on critical infrastructure projects such as nuclear power stations, housing, schools, the NHS and so on.”

He said that proposed spending ambitions by government were often papering over cracks, as opposed to moving forward on more transformative projects to improve working conditions in the building services sector and meeting a need for net-zero carbon buildings.

Mr Norfolk said that the organisation had for a long time hoped to see more stability in government policy and less chopping and changing in priorities. He said, “In some ways, [we need] less government.”

The BESA president added that politics still had an important role in enforcing better practice, particularly in trying to curb late payments throughout the construction industry with stricter public sector rules.

Mr Norfolk welcomed commitments to block contractors from public works if they failed to pay supply chains on time. However, he was critical of a Cabinet Office commitments, originally outlined in an official blog, for a company not paying 95 per cent of their invoices being banned from public sector procurement, to now take effect when 75 per cent of payments are not made in 60 days.

He added, “They say they still want to get to that 95 per cent amount. We would say, When?”

Late payment was highlighted by BESA as among of the most serious issues impacting the building services sector, specifically in the case of SMEs that were adversely affected by delays in receiving funds for work undertaken.

Mr Norfolk also touched upon technological upheaval represented by emerging opportunities in areas such as smart controls and 3D printing, as well as as understanding the implications of different approaches to design and building management in the years to come.

He added, “We must embrace all this, because if we don’t, we will find ourselves left behind and someone else will be eating our lunch.”

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