Earlier this week, the Secretary of State Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, Alok Sharma, provided an “update” to construction and manufacturing. I say update, there was very little new in his statement. If you want to read the update in full you can by clicking here. However this is the paragraph that matters to UK fenestration:

Manufacturing is a critical part of our economy and I would like to be clear that there is no restriction on manufacturing continuing under the current rules. Guidelines from Public Health England provide best practice advice on how this can be done safely. Many across aerospace, chemical, automotive, steel, aluminium, pharmaceutical, packaging and other sectors, including those providing essential services and materials, have answered the call to action and are playing a direct role in combatting COVID-19 by producing the material we need to fight the spread of the virus. It is vital that we ensure that servicing, parts and raw materials are available to keep vehicles and services on the road and operating. I would like to give you all my personal thanks for everything you are doing.

I’m not sure what the purpose of this update was. It says pretty much what his previous update did not so long ago. There has been pressure from construction and manufacturing to explain if they can or cannot go to work, but it was pointed out in the first set of guidance that there was a route for manufacturing to go to work if they felt the need to. This update goes no further than the first clarification.

But then it is undermined once again by the two metre rule. I have found that most guidance has been superceded by that. If you cannot maintain two metres or more away from anyone at all times, then it makes the job of working impossible. And this is where the problem lies. Much of the guidelines announced are contradicted by the two-metre rule.

I am seeing a small number of fabricators working on ways to reopen. I am starting to worry. The more that try to find ways back to work, the more we risk spreading the virus. As a nation we are too early in the process to be going back to work. That much has been made clear, as Government has said its too early to lift restrictions. Yes they are still to give a new date about when it might end, but I think we all know that we’re going to be locked down until at least the end of month. Companies have been trying to explain their safety processes to justify their ability to reopen. I’m not convinced. Even with the most strict measures in place, simply being at work, on a shop floor or factory poses a risk, no matter how small. Also, who will they be making for? If you’re a new-build supplier to sites that are still open and have enough workers to fit, then I can see the logic. But if you’re a residential fabricator whose installers are all at home, who are you going to be making windows for? Who are you going to deliver previous orders to?

Installers are likely to remain at home, even if fabricators reopen. Fabricators may want to complete orders that were left half-finished when they closed, but who are they going to deliver to? They can’t invoice what hasn’t been delivered. Even if half of installers suddenly opened tomorrow, that’s half of capacity still down. Home owners over a certain age, the ones with the disposable income and mortgage-free, are going to take a very long time to accept tradespeople into their homes. Especially after being told their age group and those with existing conditions should be shielded for 12 weeks.

What I fear is that some fabricators and other manufacturers will be forced to go back to work because they haven’t been able to access CIBL support, meaning they are running out of cash. I understand that. We are in the same boat at our business. We have lots going out and nothing going in. We have applied for the £25k grant which should see us through a bit longer, but then after that things become unclear. But, other than the work we have already booked in, do we really think there is going to be a rush of home owners swamp our business wanting new windows and doors in the same way they did before the crisis? No, and I think we need to all bear that in mind. Deciding to open, especially at residential manufacturing level could cause problems, both financially and from a health care point of view.

There is no good option here. I get that. Remain closed, see more money leave the business and hope and pray the furlough and CIBL money comes in time. Reopen, and risk spreading with virus further even with the most protections in place and risk drifting as a business and go nowhere as demand from home owners dives.

But I’ll end with this. You can earn money again. You can start a business again. You cannot start a life again.

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