Apart from a brief period in March 2020 when the first Covid-19 lockdown began, 2020 proved to be a fruitful year for Hull-based PBS Construction (North East) Limited and it remains in a strong position to keep the momentum going for the rest of 2021 too.
“We did stand all our employees down on 23rd March, just as everyone did,” explains Glenn Smurthwaite, Managing Director. “However, after two weeks of finding out how to work with the Covid-19 restrictions and the implementation of all the new procedures, we gradually brought people back after four or five weeks, getting back to normal after about eight weeks. Ever since it’s been full steam ahead and we’ve been busier than ever in recent times as the amount of money spent in local authorities remains strong.
“Luckily we operate in a sector that is able to work outdoors so we’ve been less affected by the pandemic than other industries. In contrast theatre or a pub chain have had it much harder, whereas this situation has been more within our control. We can be proud that we’ve not relied much on the Government and done our small bit to help the economy.”
In terms of specific contracts PBS has carried out over lockdown, one particularly noteworthy project was the Bridlington Station Plaza Scheme for East Riding of Yorkshire Council. This entailed the development of the external areas of the train station and completed to a high specification including a substantial amount of granite paving, York stone and earthworks. “It took about a year to complete and was a good job for us,” outlines Mr Smurthwaite. “We completed the project more or less to the original programme and below budget so were able to get a gain share back with it being an Option C.”
Another significant project that PBS was involved in was the widening of Tanton Bridge near Middlesbrough. The company was responsible for the design of all temporary works, scaffolding, temporary arch supports and permanent sheet piling. It also implemented a full road closure with the use of its specialist sub-contractor Oneway TM.
“It was quite a tricky project due to the stone work, while widening the barrel to the bridge was complicated too. The job was about £600,000 and again took place during the middle of the pandemic. Ordinarily it would have been quite a well used commuter route but obviously it was quieter than normal due to the lockdown, which made the process easier.”
Around 80% of PBS’ work is for Local Authorities such as East Riding of Yorkshire Council, Hull City Council, Doncaster Council, North Yorkshire Council and North East Lincs Council, while last year it was successfully added to the framework for North Lincolnshire Council, for which it has completed four jobs so far, including highway schemes.
Private sector work, meanwhile, has tended to be something that PBS steers away from, as Mr Smurthwaite highlights: “It is always a bit riskier and we generally avoid working with big contractors, although we have also done some work with BAM, which are a really good company to work with. We have done some works with Taylor Wimpey and have quite a big job starting with them this year. We have done some embankment stabilisation work with Tarmac on the A1 too, which we tend to do every year, each time taking it forward 48 metres. We’ve also been doing bits of work for Lidl on their expansion plans including a large car park in Doncaster as part of an extension to an existing store.”
With so much work currently available within construction further pressure has been put on the labour market, which is an issue that continues to cause something of a headache. “There is a shortage of good people but instead of moaning about it we’ve just got to get on with training our own people and recruiting sensibly. We’ve got three young people come in this year onsite. They go to college to get trained but work alongside experienced guys with the hope that in three or four years they can start putting kerbs and drainage in. I can’t really expect other people to train them for us.”
With regards to its more experienced staff, PBS is continually helping them to improve their existing skills with the likes of NVQs with site managers doing Level 5s and Level 6s. “We’re always trying to invest in our own workforce. The majority of the people are employed with only a handful of sub-contractors that come now and again.”
This investment in its people is mirrored in PBS’s investment in its plant and last year it purchased two grab wagons at £150,000 each, a 14-ton rubber duck that was also £150,000.
With a strong order book and a continual desire to keep investing its profits back into business, either through new plant or staff development, PBS is in an excellent position to capitalise on the recovery of the marketplace as the nation travels along the road to recovery from the pandemic. “There is still uncertainty about what the government and local authorities are going to spend so we want to just concentrate on the foundations of the company and not get complacent,” concludes Mr Smurthwaite. “This will allow us to weather any potential storms, either financially or through lack of work. It’s all about consolidating in order to have the flexibility we need.”