Following David Parsons' year of office as national chairman of the National Federation of Builders, Robert Zarywacz took the opportunity to discuss the state of the construction industry and prospects for North Devon with the managing director of Pearce Construction (Barnstaple).
IT is hard to believe that a year has passed since I interviewed David Parsons as he took up the reins as national chairman of the National Federation of Builders. Then, David spoke about his aim to ensure the survival and growth of members in readiness for the return to more favourable trading conditions. He also talked of his intention to lobby for procurement policies that offered small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) fair access to opportunities for local private and public sector work. A year on and David, always careful not to be carried away by hype, is pleased to welcome what he calls "controlled optimism" in the construction industry.
"It has taken four or five years as people have repositioned themselves," said David. "We are selling houses again and there are more opportunities becoming available. Housing pulled us in after Northern Rock and now housing is pulling us out again."
David added that this was the sentiment he detected as he went round the country in his role as NFB chairman.
"My role included strategy, troubleshooting and networking. I met with people from all around the regions. It has been good for me and good for the business."
The challenges created by the recession are requiring firms in the construction industry, as in every other sector, to change. David has been at the heart of the NFB's consultation with and lobbying of Government on policies and initiatives including building information modelling, local government procurement and the Green Deal.
David's lobbying included visiting Westminster and hosting a visit from the Government's chief construction adviser, Peter Hansford, in Barnstaple. The visit included a tour round social and private housing in the town and meeting NFB members to discuss issues such as public sector frameworks. There is concern that frameworks, which local authorities use to manage construction procurement, limit the opportunities available to SMEs.
"It was an interesting 12 months but it went by too quickly. We have to think months and years ahead."
David remains concerned about the lack of funding from banks to SMEs as well as the practice of major contractors who have 90-day and 120-day payment terms: "Microbusinesses are subsidising the major contractors."
He also believes that despite action by the Government there has been little improvement in the planning process and that it can still take years to reach the stage when construction of a project can begin.
Turning his attention to North Devon, David believes there is more of a feelgood factor in the area as house building gets under way again. Pearce has also just completed the Dogs Trust's £2.1 million rebuild at West Down and is currently working on a £2 million major refurbishment project at Petroc, both contracts won against national competitors. Projects of this scale combined with house building has required Pearce to recruit more people.
"Our employees peaked at 128, then fell to 100 and are back up to 114 having recruited new staff from site managers to surveyors, ground workers, carpenters and masons. This is to cope with the increase in work."
Pearce has a long history of recruiting and retaining its people and in January site manager John Buckingham retired after 50 years with the company. More than 20% have completed 25 years' service, while seven employees have completed 40 years.
Some 30% of employees started at Pearce as apprentices or trainees and the company has taken on three trade apprentices this year as well as an apprentice administrator. Many staff continue day release training and some study up to NVQ level 6, equivalent to degree level.
David believes that employing young people and giving them vocational training benefits both the company and the individual.
While David's stint as chairman of the NFB has finished, he remains a director of the organisation and continues to take an interest in developing the construction industry.
It is clear to see that he is pleased that prospects are better now than 12 months ago and, rather than see another boom leading to such a spectacular bust, he much prefers the steadier progress of "controlled optimism".
For details visit pearcebarnstaple.co.uk