Rising material costs and workforce shortage impacting Calderdale projects

From the rising cost of building materials to workforce shortages and supply chain delays, councils are facing an array of challenges to complete capital projects.

Friday, 12th November 2021, 12:00 pm
The Northgate House project in Halifax

Calderdale Council’s corporate lead for major projects, Rob Summerfield, said some challenges the authority faced were topical and others had materialised since the pandemic.

With inflation rising, the cost of building materials was significantly higher which could be a problem because some projects took a significant amount of time to develop, often three to five years for major ones, making it more difficult to stay within budgets.

Spikes in prices could see contractors go bust, causing delays, and increasing costs, with a smaller pool of contractors reducing competitiveness.

There were mixed views about whether the rise in inflation was temporary or “here to stay”.

Leaving the European Union had reduced the amount of labour available across the UK and increased demand for workers was increasing salary levels in all construction trades.

Another challenge was the increasing age of the construction industry workforce, with Office for National Statistics figures showing a 13 per cent increase of those aged over 45 over the last 30 years.

The council’s Northgate, Halifax, project had been subject to industry and supply chain issues “massively”, leading to delays in acquiring materials, and delays at ports and the HGV driver shortage were also feeding into this, said Mr Summerfield.

Being a smaller council, retaining key staff can be difficult in the current situation where “private sector salaries are eye-watering even for graduates,” he said.

In response, the council had been training up some of its own staff – and this had been successful, some changing careers to train as project managers.

Communications were important where major projects were involved, with this year’s consultation over plans for the railway station gateway garnering the best response the authority ever had, said Mr Summerfield, who was speaking to the council’s Place Scrutiny Board.

Coun Paul Bellenger (Lib Dem, Greetland and Stainland) wanted to ensure some project money was spent in wards outside those with town boards and he wondered if there was a way capital projects could be paused or stopped until the market improved to avoid potentially having to spend millions of pounds extra.

Coun Colin Hutchinson (Lab, Skircoat) wondered if there was a way to employ staff across the West Yorkshire region to ensure they had better continuity of employment, in response to leaving for other jobs before projects were finished in order to secure their employment.

Work along these lines had been done through the West Yorkshire Combined Authority, Mr Summerfield said.

Coun Audrey Smith (Lab, Sowerby Bridge) asked if the cost of material escalated in a WYCA funded project did the combined authority take up the inflationary aspect, and also who decided project priority?

Mr Summerfield said externally funded schemes had their own requirements while internal schemes reflected the council’s own priorities.

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