Leading industry figures have stressed that ensuring the health and safety of employees, clients and society as a whole is their top priority as the coronavirus pandemic unfolds over the coming weeks and months.
As the industry tries to come to terms with the fast-moving ramifications of the developing crisis, a number of issues are sure to be at the forefront of the minds of business leaders.
Consultancy firms are first and foremost people-based businesses and any downturn in the sector is bound to result in redundancies, with some SMEs reportedly saying they will not survive more than a few weeks’ shutdown or remote working due to their cash flow situation – and that’s even with the delays to HMRC payments previously announced by the government.
There are certain to be growing calls on the government from industry bodies for support to enable workers in the industry to continue to work remotely, with a particular focus on SME’s digital needs with financial support for both hardware and software and the potential cost of additional licences, in the form of grants preferably if not loans.
The government is also likely to come under additional pressure to accelerate its development work on major government programmes, including schools, hospitals, roads, rail and others, to mitigate a very likely downturn in private sector work.
The chancellor and the prime minister will also likely face calls to stimulate the economy by turning their high-level “infrastructure revolution” commitment into a tangible reality of a clear pipeline of projects in the autumn to provide some measure of business confidence.
Meanwhile, Turner and Townsend, Ramboll and Wates are amongst companies who have issued statements on what remains a rapidly changing scenario in what are clearly unprecedented times.
Vincent Clancy, chairman and chief executive officer, Turner & Townsend, addressing clients and partners, said: “Our top priorities are taking care of our people and supporting our clients while working safely. We have followed guidance from the World Health Organization (WHO) and local governments.
“As necessary, we have taken decisions to alter our pattern of working and restrict travel to safeguard our people in affected locations. We are enabling and supporting our teams to continue to work productively through remote working and the use of our integrated technology and systems, including video conferencing, remote data and systems access and other collaborative tools.
“Crucially, we remain fully operational. Our teams continue to support all of our clients and their needs through modified working practices. This approach has recently been fully tested in Asia and is now being applied effectively across other regions as the need arises.
“We are confident in the resilience of our business and our ability to continue to provide our full range of services throughout this period, whilst supporting the health and wellbeing of everyone.”
Ramboll, in a statement on its website, said: “The coronavirus has brought about challenging times for the global society. In Ramboll, we take our responsibility as an employer and business partner very seriously, and the health and safety of our employees and clients is our foremost priority. Therefore, we have taken proactive measures to avoid spreading of the virus.
“This means that the everyday work life has changed for many of our employees, who now work remotely using our digital collaboration platforms and virtual channels. We are well set up to continue delivering on our commitments and projects with clients and we have continuity plans in place in case of wider disruption, due to the coronavirus.”
Wates Group has also issued a statement on their website. “The health, safety and wellbeing of our customers, our employees, and the wider public has always been our top priority and we are taking the coronavirus outbreak extremely seriously. In response we have implemented a number of protocols across the group to safeguard our people and our operations.
“We are continuing to operate our sites as usual, in compliance with government health advice. Existing protocols established with our supply chain to ensure continuity of supply of essential materials have been reviewed and extended to those regions most impacted by the virus including Italy and China. We are now focused on devising mitigation plans to ensure that, as far as possible, we can progress on projects, for example, by finding alternative sources of those materials in short supply.
“As well as ensuring the security of materials, we are conscious of the need to maintain security of labour on our active sites. At this time, none of our sites have any recorded cases of coronavirus, however we are planning for all eventualities, and that includes the minimum level of personnel required for operating our sites and offices safely and implementing flexible working practices.”