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Subsidence skills shortage bites

It is not just a geotechnical skills shortage that is impacting on the subsidence sector, says ASUC plus chairman David Gakhar, one in the insurance industry is not helping either.

"It seems to me if they ain't got you one way they've got you another. So what's the answer?" So says Michael Caine in the film Alfie when reflecting on his lot in life. It might also be a question posed by contractors working in the subsidence sector, many of whom have for some time aired grievances about payments from the insurance market.

This is particularly so given last summer's UK flooding, which, some say, has affected the operational capacity of insurance companies and dealt a blow to subsidence workloads.

However, subsidence association ASUCplus chairman David Gakhar does not want to just talk about traditional insurance payment woes. This, he says, is a subject that most firms working in the sector are only too well aware of. The current issue runs deeper. Gakhar wants to highlight additional threats to subsidence contractors and their capacity to deal with the next event year.

"Today's Daily Telegraph makes interesting reading," he says. It is a front page article under the heading: 'After the wettest summer, are we on course for the driest-ever autumn?' [27 November].

"We already have members who have dropped insurance work over the past 12 months because of poor payment conditions and this process has been exacerbated," he says. "We don't know how many insurance claims have been made during the summer months. Perhaps because it wasn't an event year, insurance personnel have been reallocated to flood damage work.

"We don't know how many [subsidence related] claims are in the system but our members are saying they are not getting the level of work through that they would anticipate. Do insurers now have the resources to push subsidence clients through?"

Gakhar feels that subsidence clients are just a thorn in the side of the insurance market with an annual value of £350M to £400M, which is dwarfed by the "£4bn to £5bn bandied around for this summer's floods alone".

Although Gakhar says there are adequate numbers of contractors working in the insurance market, he fears that come an event year this may not be the case. "Are there going to be enough contractors left with the relevant skills to manage and do the repair work? Some ASUCplus members have moved their people into flood damage repair and this will have diminished their capacity to handle subsidence related work."

He explains that ASUCplus members' work comes with a 12-year defects insurance guarantee. "However if our members continue to look outside the insurance-funded sector, there is the real possibility that this guarantee will one day not be available to the insurance market."
Of those left doing this kind of work, Gakhar wants them to get in on the project early, and be adequately paid for it. He says if contractors could have more say in the process from day one, the scope of works could be agreed, speeding up the whole scheme and, crucially, the payment.

"There is a lot of innovation and research and development for pioneering techniques, and contractors can specify remedial schemes better than loss adjusters and consultants. But not being adequately paid for this work hasn't changed since the last piece I wrote (GE January 2007)," he says. "The upshot is why would contractors bother to innovate when they are not being paid to do so?"

David Gakhar is the chairman of ASUCplus and managing director of Underpin and Makegood Contracting.


SKILLS SHORTAGE

The general UK geotechnical skills shortage seems to be a subject on everyone's lips at the moment and Gakhar is no exception. "There are an awful lot of migrant workers within the UK plugging a gap, which is fine, unless it's short lived. It helps in the short term, but if they decide to go home afterwards and we are not developing home grown talent, then we are heading for a problem."

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