Polypipe Civils Comment: Q4 2021

Like friends and colleagues across our industry, the Christmas break was a timely and much needed circuit-breaker from the challenges of 2021. Those challenges have not magically disappeared, far from it, but it was an opportunity to take breath and consider how we move forward into 2022.

The upstream supply uncertainties throughout the second half of 2021 remain equally volatile, making the implementation of accurate strategic plans and effective operational decisions far from easy. With demand staying relatively firm, albeit with expected seasonal variation, and forecasts of price fluctuations combined with interest rate rises and a squeeze on the cost of living, we could see volumes fall back in some sectors.

In contrast, infrastructure and green urbanisation activity is set to see continued strong growth led by projects such as HS2 and legislative drivers such as the Environment Act. The Environment Act’s requirements for developments to achieve a net-gain uplift in biodiversity will transform our urban landscape and deliver a wealth of multi-functional benefits for communities and the environment. We will be watching carefully to see what targets will be introduced this year to improve nature, air and water quality.

For manufacturers such as ourselves serving these sectors, the continuing challenge is to maintain a consistent level of service while mitigating, as far as we can, the impacts of material constraints and price instability.

Perhaps it’s too early to say that we are now through the worst of Covid-19. Let’s hope we are. Its legacy, however, is more structural and permanent. The workplace is now more flexible, connected and dynamic. New practices shaped by technology are changing perceptions and expectations of the next generation. If the construction industry is to attract and build the skilled and engaged workforce it needs, we must embrace this opportunity to innovate.

That said, on a very human level, it is good to see face-to-face meetings making a welcome return. Technology is a great enabler but there is no substitute for direct contact with colleagues and customers. Good construction, after all, thrives off building good relationships.

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