As expected, there are more questions than answers 24 hours after Boris Johnson’s statement to the nation yesterday evening. There will be more to come this week and in the coming weeks as we all try to understand our new normal, whilst doing our level best to adhere to the new, if somewhat confused messaging from the Government.

As with yesterday’s post, this is an opinion piece. This is not a direct instruction, but merely my takeaways based on the conversations and information that has come to light today. What you decide to do from this point is your decision.

New guidance

As promised, the Government has published a raft of new guidance today. The one that matters to us as an industry is this one. Its worth a read. A careful and considered read. To jump to the first thing that says tradespeople can go into people’s homes, in reality, isn’t as clear as that. There is a lot to consider.

Earlier in the day, I was involved with a media call with Jon Vanstone, Chair of Certass who briefed industry press as to what they had been doing to help shape the new guidance that has been released about safe working in homes. They have been involved with the shaping of the guidance that is now being circulated, so it does carry weight. It is the basis of the new guidance that is going to be issued to Certass members from tomorrow, and I had it confirmed to me that they will be telling their members that general window and door replacement work inside occupied homes is not to happen for the time being. Outdoor work such as conservatories, roofline or roofing work can be done, abiding by new health and safety guidance. As per previous guidance, emergency work can also be carried out.

Also today, Corgi Fenestration published their own guidance for installers, which is very detailed, here. We expect to hear from other sector trade bodies in the coming days and their new guidance to their members following on from the events of the past 24 hours.

Ultimately, there is nothing in place to stop an installer from choosing to return to work now, rather than in a few weeks time. Fines aren’t being given and this isn’t an area trade bodies can physically police. All they can do is give their instructions and analysis of Government guidance to their members. It’s up to each individual company to then make a decision based on their own moral code and current business situation. For some, they will remain closed. Some have already decided to go back. Whether or not the new guidance being issued by Certass or others in the coming days will reverse those decisions will remain to be seen.

There is a crunch point coming for installers. Cash, or rather a lack of it is becoming a severe problem. With fabricators opening up, they will be feeling the pressure from their suppliers to go back to work. I would hope that no pressure is put on any installer by any supplier. It would not be the right thing to do in these circumstances. Remember, its the installers that have to go into the homes of the general public, and the risk lies with them, not with their suppliers on that front. Whilst some, like at our place, will decide to hopefully resume installations at the start of June, some will decide to go back sooner. Even if personally they don’t want to. This is a hardship like no other.

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When can we go back into homes?

If you’re hoping for the Government to come out at some point in the next few days/weeks to give us a concrete date as to when we can go back into people’s homes for general replacement work, you’re going to be disappointed.

They haven’t been specific up to now, and they won’t start doing so. I know trade bodies have been pressing the Government for such a thing, but if we get one that is specific to the day I would be highly surprised.

It is being left to trade bodies across various different industries to take the Government guidance and interpret it to their members. The byproduct of such a method is wiggle room. As we are seeing now, installers are beginning to go back to work, some stating that residential fenestration is part of construction, which it isn’t.

My impression is that after the past 24 hours, the Government is wanting us to take on much more responsibility when it comes to living and working around the virus. “Stay alert”, for example, is nowhere near as clear as “stay at home”. With the latter, people knew what that meant and largely stuck to it, until the past couple of weekends or so. “Stay alert” is vague. Although Boris in his 7pm briefing did admit that staying alert still did mean staying home as much as possible. But even then, by encouraging more to go back to work if they can, that works directly against staying at home. And if we’re finding ourselves having to figure out what “stay alert” accurately means, then the impact and efficacy of the message is going to be lost.

What was also stark for me today in the 7pm briefing was for the first time there were small hints that there is an outside chance a vaccine may not be achieved and that a small proportion of people will still die from COVID-19. The total endgame for all of this is a vaccine. Create one, vaccinate the population, then all measures might truly be able to be relaxed. Until then, we’re going to be living with some form of restrictions and social distancing. However, it was pointed out that 18 years after the SARS virus, there still is no vaccine for that.

The following days, weeks and months are going to throw up more questions, more confusion and more guidance. It’s perfectly possible we may end up in strict lockdown conditions again. We’re living and working in our toughest challenge to date. Whilst there will be extremely tough conditions to navigate for a while, there will be things we will learn from this about ourselves as people, and about how we run our businesses. Hopefully, these lessons will make for a positive long term benefit for our sector.

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