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Coronavirus: Builders firms 'months from collapse' with no ease in lockdown

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image captionSites in Scotland have been closed for more than five weeks

Many construction firms in Scotland face the prospect of financial collapse within months unless the lockdown can be eased, an industry body has said.

All but essential construction sites in Scotland have been closed for more than five weeks since the coronavirus restrictions were introduced.

From next week, three of the UK's biggest housebuilders will reopen their sites in England.

The Federation of Master Builders wants the same rules for Scottish firms.

And it has warned that many smaller builders will go bust if they are not allowed to follow suit.

The group is now asking the Scottish government for a timeline - and updated guidance - to allow them to get safely back to work.

'We are adaptable'

FMB Scotland director Gordon Nelson said that financial problems were mounting as each week goes by.

He said: "There's evidence that about two thirds of small and medium-sized construction firms may only have the cash to survive another two to three months if the present circumstances continue.

"We're pleased about the job retention scheme from the UK government for furloughed workers.

"But we're also asking for small grants for more building companies around the country so that they can survive."

image captionGordon Nelson said that cashflow problems were growing by the week

Mr Nelson said his members "first and foremost recognise this is a public health crisis".

But he said the industry was more than capable of adapting to new workplace guidelines to get builders back on site.

"The pressure is to resolve this and demonstrate safe working practices," he said.

"Our members are very keen that we don't unintentionally rush back to work too soon in a way that may lead to a spike in new infections of the coronavirus.

"We're keeping a close eye on, and are in dialogue with, construction firms in England to see what evidence they can demonstrate for safe operating. We want to use that evidence and take it to the Scottish government.

"We are determined to get back to work as quickly as possible so our members can generate work and survive and thrive in the medium to longer term."

'Open the door slightly and get us back to work'

image captionAndrew Haldane wants an industry-wide collaboration

Andrew Haldane's construction firm had to temporarily shut down on 23 March and all its employees are currently furloughed.

He has plenty of orders in his books for when work does resume but says, like all builders, he has serious concerns about the future.

And he believes the Scottish government must "open the door slightly" by agreeing to new working practices that would comply with social distancing instructions.

Staggered breaks

Mr Haldane said: "Only essential works are being done in Scotland, which is understandable given the current situation.

"Down in England they have a different format where contractors are going back to work in the near future.

"I think we just need a collaborative effort from everyone in the business to agree that there is a way we can to go back to work.

"Whether that be our people travelling to work on their own, not using public transport, working in phases with staggered breaks and PPE where that's necessary."

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