As we have seen in previous eras of hardship, both the construction and agriculture sectors have continued to operate throughout this unusual period of time, and are ready to kick things up another gear to help lift the nation out of this unprecedented ‘slump’. As is the case with many industries, the pandemic will leave a legacy, and in the construction and agriculture sector, this should be to make our productivity stronger, ensuring we make a positive impact and act as a catalyst for what will be our new “normal” and the foundations of a stronger economy.
So what have our construction and agricultural sectors been doing during the lockdown period?
Building projects have carried on as much as possible, and plans are being made at all levels to ensure this not only continues, but also expands. An investment in construction can kick start the UK economy according to experts at Birmingham City University who have produced the ‘Build Back Better: Covid-19 Economy Recovery Plan’ which features a blueprint for a safe return to construction. The plan outlines a set of recommendations to help stimulate demand for new homes and home improvement - revealing details on how to build essential infrastructure and train a new generation of skilled workers, acting as a catalyst for growth and delivering income for HMRC.
In 1980 the UK produced 80% of its own food, today that has dropped to 61%. A contraction in the agricultural economy can have a lasting impact on our ability to feed ourselves, something certainly higher in the minds of Britons now than it was a couple of months ago! But food security is something that we can achieve by changing our habits and British farmers are trying to educate buyers by advising that we shop locally and sustainably, buying fresh, seasonal and sustainable produce from your local online farm shop or market, which has been very well received throughout the lockdown measures and should continue as a matter of habit as part of our ‘new normal’.
And what steps can future proof these industries against further disruption?
One of the most significant impacts is the disruption on the supply of workers and is likely to spur permanent shifts within both sectors when the pandemic ends. The risks inherent in depending on foreign seasonal workers have materialised in the UK. Between border closures and fears of sickness and quarantine, foreign workers are not coming this season. After this experience, it seems unlikely that things will return to business as usual in regard to migrant workers, so it is likely that the automation of operations wherever possible, will be used in an attempt to mitigate the risks stemming from being reliant on foreign seasonal workers.
It goes without saying that automation requires a considerable up-front investment, and some areas (such as harvesting fruits and vegetables in farming) are more difficult to automate than others. But there are technologies currently available, such as drones, autonomous tractors, seeding robots, and robotic harvesters that can dramatically reduce dependence on seasonal and temporary staffing.
At the end of this very difficult period, many of the following needs will still exist: the need for more homes; the renewal of our retail and commercial centres, urban regeneration, upgrading existing transport networks and connecting new places, building resilience to the impact of climate change and transitioning to a cleaner, greener and more sustainable rural and urban environments. With some strategic support and a strong spirit of collaboration, once again the construction and agriculture industries are ready and waiting to pick up the baton in the post-recovery stage and carry the country towards economic recovery.