Rishi Sunak has admitted that the government stopped more construction activity than it intended to during the first Covid-19 lockdown.
The prime minister, who was chancellor when the pandemic started, this week told an official inquiry that the meaning of key communications was “slightly lost” when it came to the building industry.
Construction activity plummeted in the spring of 2020, as government broadcasts urged people to stay at home to save lives.
The government did not order sites to close, but in March 2020, activity had stopped on sites accounting 65% of total value of work in the construction sector.
Almost nine in 10 building firms surveyed by the Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply saw a drop in activity that April, leading to a record low on its closely watched index.
Hugo Keith KC, the lead lawyer for the Covid Inquiry, this week put it to Sunak that the Treasury became concerned about “over-compliance” with the stay-at-home edict during the first lockdown.
“Essentially, your department was concerned that the public had not understood sufficiently clearly from the government’s communications that they should go to work… if they couldn’t work from home, and that the nuance of that position had been lost in the overall messaging of ‘stay at home to help us save lives’,” suggested Keith.
Sunak replied: “You are right in summarising the situation. The best example was in the construction industry… it was by its nature outdoors and we saw what happened in other European countries.
“More activity was able to be continued in Europe than was the case in the UK. That was a good example of the messaging being slightly lost… the scientific advice and modelling was predicated on an amount of people working at home and a number people at work, and those assumptions were undershot and fewer people were out at work than had been anticipated.”
Credit: Construction News