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Level pegging

I am pleased to tell you that we have been busy the whole of the lockdown and none of us has missed a day

There’s nothing quite like that heart-stopping moment when you open an envelope and see that you have messed up your exams. The realisation that you have missed out on a place, a job an opportunity that you have set your heart – now resting somewhere in the region of your boots – upon.

I know. In August 19-whenever, I was that teenager. I knew that, had I done a few more weeks’ revision on Julius Caesar and the novels of Thomas Hardy – Lord, what a misery guts he was – and a bit more attention to French grammar rules, I might have waltzed into Exeter University as planned. In the end, I went somewhere else, did s slightly different course and it all worked out. Hurrah for clearing and the lovely lady at the University of Essex admissions office. The difference between me then and the students this week is that the responsibility was mine and mine alone. It was not the result of an algorithm designed, not to even the playing field, but to top rampant grade inflation. It was all a dreadful mess, and now that the Government has changed its mind and will allow the higher of the moderated or Centre-Assessed-Grades to stand, the problem has moved back on the universities. Tomorrow’s GSCE results are going to make the picture even more complicated.

The problem, of course, is the pandemic, the lockdown and the UK Government’s response to it. Because Covid is the get-out clause du jour. Redundancies, overflowing litter-bins, stock shortages, sloppy customer service, extortionate price rises, dodgy A level grades, an economy in recession… all are Because Covid.

So, it was great to see some positive news come through the murk. Both Travis Perkins and Jewson have gone to their customers who operate at the sharp end of the construction economy and asked them the questions that count: How is your business going? how confident are you about business in the future?

A stonking great 91% of those questioned in the Travis Perkins survey are expecting their workloads to either stay the same or increase; Jewson found 73% of tradespeople are optimistic about the amount of work in their pipeline over the next six months. And, happily for Jewson, Travis Perkins – and all the other merchants out there – only 10% are predicting buying fewer materials.

The construction industry has been in the news since Boris made his Build Back Better pronouncements but the mainstream media does tend to focus on the big-ticket items, on large infrastructure projects such as HS2, big residential developments, commercial, industrial projects. As TP’s CEO Nick Roberts points out in his introduction to the piece, “it is important to remember the hidden army of tradespeople who represent a huge proportion of the work that is delivered across the country…we know first-hand the contribution that the nation’s tradespeople make to the economy.”

That “hidden army” accounted for £29bn of work in the domestic RMI sector last year, according to the Office for National Statistics and, while there has undoubtedly been a slide, both surveys show that there’s pent-up demand for building work, builders and building materials.

So, hopefully, good news to focus on in the next few months, whatever else Covid has to throw at us.

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About Fiona Russell-Horne

Fiona Russell-Horne
Editor-in-Chief across the BMJ portfolio.

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