Online attendance grew steadily throughout the first week of the webinars, peaking last Friday when the system was over-subscribed with more than 650 delegates trying to get online. BESA is now hoping to extend the platform so more delegates can sign up for this week’s series, which run daily at 12 noon.
“We have learned a tremendous amount from the experts who have given their time to keep us informed – and the over-riding message was: If you want essential services (like hospitals, supermarkets and care homes) – you need building services,” said BESA chief executive David Frise, who chaired the webinars.
Topics to be covered this week will include analysis of the economic impact of the crisis from the Construction Products Association and a presentation on the direct technical response to the airborne threat posed by the virus from BESA’s Health and Well-being in Buildings group.
Among the highlights from last week, delegates heard from an official at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) who confirmed the special status of building services engineers.
He told the webinar that building maintenance should continue as normal, subject to compliance with Public Health England guidance, the government’s social distancing policy and the site operating guidance published by the Construction Leadership Council.
“Building maintenance is helping to save lives,” the official told the webinar, adding that “people who fix crucial safety issues in buildings, including plumbers maintaining boilers for the elderly and vulnerable, must be able to keep working. They are carrying out important work”.
Webinar attendees also heard confirmation that heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems are “part of the solution and not part of the problem” and that rumours about air conditioning helping to circulate the virus had no foundation in science.
During a financial update session, BESA’s legal and commercial director, Debbie Petford, advised contractors to review their contracts so supply chains could work together to manage inevitable delays to projects.
She said firms should confirm the correct method for notifying delays under the terms of their contract. She added that many contractors were now entering into deeds of suspension with their clients where both parties agree to suspend their obligations and work out how to apportion risk.
“This is a really sensible approach,” she told BESA’s daily Covid-19 update webinar. “There is no one-size-fits-all remedy here, but if you contact my department at BESA we will be happy to advise you.”
It was also reported that some of the banks were demanding personal guarantees for the business interruption loans announced by Chancellor Rishi Sunak. Ms Petford said there was no need for company owners to provide such guarantees. The government has clearly stated that banks are not allowed to use someone’s main residence as security but may ask for stocks and shares.
BESA also provided a detailed analysis of other financial assistance available to firms including VAT deferment arrangements and head of employment affairs Paula Samuels took attendees through the government’s job retention scheme and explained the concept of furloughing employees.
BESA also reported on its work with the CBI and BuildUK on wider industry responses, including the definition of essential sites and key workers.