MBS annual survey
Ten years ago, MBS conducted a survey. This year we repeated the exercise. Karen Fletcher reports on the results.
In Autumn 2008, MBS surveyed its readers to find out what was happening in the industry at a time when there were rising fears of a recession – the economy had contracted by 0.1%, ending 16 years of growth. It was the year that Woolworths announced that all its stores would close and went into administration in November 2008. Car sales fell, and M&S closed some of its food stores.
We have repeated the research exercise in 2018 there is a strong sense of déjà vu. Apparently once-unassailable retailers have disappeared from our high streets, or seem to be on shaky ground, including Toys R Us, Maplin and most recently House of Fraser. Added to this are our current political anxieties about Brexit. It seems that we have never quite been able to shake off the disquiet that set in a decade ago.
Looking back at the results from 2008, our readers highlighted three key issues for the industry:
• A growing demand for energy efficiency, sustainability and low-carbon technologies being driven by legislation, economics and concern for the environment.
• A shortage of skilled engineers and related trades entering the industry, along with a lack of training and development opportunities.
• Concern over an industry slow-down caused by economic uncertainty.
In 2018 our survey, and wider reports from the industry, reflect the fact that these issues are still high on the agenda.
The fear of an industry slow-down is now fuelled by Brexit. This is the single biggest political and economic issue facing the industry according to this year’s respondents. Uncertainty has led to reduced or delayed investments, and there are areas of regulation (for example, refrigerants) where even the experts are unclear on what the post-Brexit landscape might look like.
Of our respondents, 38% said their business turnover had reduced and 33% said it had remained the same as last year. Though this does leave 29% with growing business, which is encouraging news.
A lack of skilled staff was not specifically addressed in our survey this year, but it has been highlighted by numerous associations and government reports as a major factor in the potential non-delivery of major infrastructure and construction projects. MBS has covered several news stories in recent months that address the problems caused by a lack of skilled people in the industry.
Results from our original 2008 survey show that the economic downturn was affecting interest in building integrated renewables, with less than 30% of respondents saying that clients were interested in the ‘environmental credentials of their buildings’. In the past ten years, regulations have been driving energy efficiency but response from clients seems to be mixed.
Impact of legislation
Just under half of our respondents this year (48%) said that clients had shown a greater interest in energy efficient building services and products since Minimum Energy Efficiency Standards (MEES) were introduced in April this year. This left 52% saying that they had seen no change in demand for energy efficiencyrelated developed from their clients.
However, legislation is having an impact on choice of building services equipment, because 52% of respondents also said that they were influenced by regulations such as the Energy Related Products (ErP) directive.
Another 30% said that if the client particularly highlighted this type of regulation as required for a project, they would specify accordingly.
We also see legislation having an effect on building design and performance at the local level. Of our respondents this year, 60% said that they had worked on projects that fell under a local requirement for use of renewables or demonstration of efficient performance – such as the London Plan, for example. This is an interesting point that shows how local government can impact on buildings in a particular area, where perhaps national legislation is less directly felt.
Technology and skills
The use of technology by correspondents is mixed. The survey revealed that 62% of have been involved this year in projects using BIM, which is perhaps less than might be assumed. However, when it comes to using other tech, we found that 78% of respondents have been using smart phone apps to help in their everyday work. All respondents noted that they research new products online, as well as via the trade press.
In the past year, the vast majority (70%) of our correspondents say their work has largely been on refurbishment projects, as opposed to new build – not surprising given the slow-down in new commercial construction projects.
A comparison of our two surveys shows that despite a ten-year gap the key issues for businesses remain the same.
It is a little disappointing to see that as far back as 2008 the industry recognised that a lack of new entrants to the industry was a problem – and we don’t seem to have found a way to tackle that comprehensively.
Hopefully as government and industry bodies tackle late payments in our sector, more money can be found to invest in muchneeded training, so that the industry can grasp new technologies - and opportunities .