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RIBA writes letter to Chancellor calling for urgent action to tackle the economic crisis caused by coronavirus

On Wednesday 18 March, RIBA CEO Alan Vallance wrote to the Chancellor to set out urgent measures required to support architects over the coming weeks and months.

20 March 2020

Earlier this week, RIBA CEO Alan Vallance wrote to the Chancellor to set out urgent measures required to support architects over the coming weeks and months.

The letter asks the Government to deliver in three main areas: preserving cash flow, maintaining the operation of the planning and development control systems and ensuring that construction projects continue in a safe way.

Preserving cash flow

For many RIBA members, cash flow concerns are the most pressing and immediate. The Chancellor must therefore consider introducing a range of measures to allow businesses to prioritise their day-to-day financial transactions.

These include:

  • The immediate deferral of PAYE, VAT and business rate payments to strengthen balance sheets;
  • Clear guidance on how to access loans and the timescales for how long they can expect to wait for decisions and funds to provide certainty for owners and staff;
  • Support for staff and employers affected by short-term cashflow issues including greater support for short-time working;
  • Faster payment terms and direct payment to subcontractors on public contracts, reflecting the fact that government is itself a major client in the construction sector;
  • A government-backed low/no cost factoring facility for private contracts to help stabilise wider uncertainty in the market;
  • Capital allowance increases to allow companies to invest immediately in the technology required to facilitate a transition from office to home working.

Maintaining the operation of the planning and development control systems

As long as it remains safe, architects need to be able to continue to run their businesses. While the planning and development control system will not be a primary focus for local authorities at this time, its continued operation remains of vital importance.

The ability of local authorities to carry out their duties whilst ensuring the health and safety of their staff and local communities will require additional support and flexibility from the Government. This should include:

  • Additional short and medium term funding to cover staff absences or redeployment to maintain operating capacity;
  • A relaxation of time limits for planning applications to allow local authorities to prioritise cases to reflect health and safety considerations and the nature of requests;
  • Waivers to allow the deferral of requirements for information if planning officers judge a request to be of low or no impact;
  • Greater flexibility around the operation and submission of evidence to planning committees.

Ensuring that construction projects continue in a safe way

Construction sites need to remain open for work. In order to ensure access to materials and labour, safe working conditions must also be a priority. The Chancellor must therefore ensure that:

  • Customs clearance processes continue to operate effectively and that the understandable prioritization of essential medical and food supplies must not lead to delays elsewhere.
  • Inclusion of construction product suppliers within any essential businesses categories if closures of retail units are considered

These key asks have come from the RIBA’s first assessment of how the Government can help the sector.

We encourage our members, architects and practices to feed back any concerns they have regarding the impact of coronavirus on business to inform our political engagement. 

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