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How are construction firms getting away with keeping sites open?

THE way the major construction firms have flouted — and been allowed to flout — the coronavirus lockdown is a prime example of much that is wrong with our system.

There is such a thing as necessary building work. Plumbers and heating engineers still need to repair broken kit, whether on households or big buildings. 

Sites need to be made safe. Some work shouldn’t be left half done. This work should continue — but it needs to be managed, with as much cleaning and distancing as possible.

But that is not what is happening on the big sites. Workers are being crammed together in sites that were not that clean at the best of times, just to finish profitable big projects. 

How do the employers get away with it? In two ways. First, many of the staff are subcontracted, often to phoney “self-employment,” so the big employers don’t take responsibility for their workers.

Second, these are huge, politically connected firms. Instead of the government influencing their behaviour, they influence the government. 

Take MACE Group. After extensive public pressure, it says it is shutting its sites. But before this, Tribune reported that “an electrician working on a MACE-managed project in London was told to pack up his tools for sending a tweet about the lack of social distancing and coronavirus preparation on site.”

And what is MACE? It is financially a big deal — with a £2 billion turnover. 

It is also politically a big deal. Baroness Ruby McGregor-Smith is a Conservative peer. 

The party is so keen on her it made her a director of the Department for Education. She is also a senior adviser to MACE Group: so the firms running the sites are rich, powerful, and buy their political connections.

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