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Nationwide MD looks at Brexit and beyond

John Whalley, Managing Director of Nationwide Windows & Doors, leading fenestration partner to social housing landlords, looks at how RSLs and property managers can try to mitigate at least some of the uncertainties surrounding Brexit…

At the time of writing, Theresa May is meeting MPs to try to find a way forward for Brexit after a narrow victory in the no-confidence vote. With meetings and briefings now happening hourly, it can feel like we’re stuck on an unending journey towards triggering Article 50 on the 29th March – and even that may not be a definite.

To get any deal done where there are such clashing views everywhere is a Herculean task and it would be a braver and wiser person than me who could forecast any outcome with a sense of certainty.

So where does that leave us? These unprecedented times are too big for any one organisation in the public or private sector to mitigate against so the best we can try to do is focus on the areas where we can exert the most control.

As one of the leading window and door manufacturers and installers into social housing refurbishment programmes, for Nationwide, this starts with a focus on the supply chain.

Interrupted materials supply  

Customers are asking us as a manufacturing partner, how we can address their concerns about the supply of raw materials for making windows and doors. What will happen if border controls become more stringent and slow down the flow of goods? Who will foot the bill for the additional associated costs?

While not as critical as foodstuff or medicines that have a short shelf life, these are still very real issues with an impact on individual clients and the health of our housing stock as a whole.

That’s why we’ve been working hard with our raw material suppliers to ensure that they’re committed to holding additional stock levels which is turn means we too can do the same should the flow of goods be interrupted or even halted temporarily.

Thanks to Nationwide’s manufacturer status, we are more in control of our destiny compared with those who just buy in windows and doors and who now have the unenviable task of trying to secure extra stock holding along multiple layers of the supply chain.

A diminishing labour and skills supply

Any healthy and flourishing economy has one thing at its heart – a sustainable and appropriately skilled labour force. It has been well documented that there is a growing skills shortage in the property services / construction sectors and Brexit will exacerbate this, as skilled labour from EU countries potentially declines depending on the status migrants from the EU will be awarded.

We need look no further than the Farmer Report to see the threats this part of the economy faces already faces without a further tightening.

In this ever-diminishing talent pool, successful organisations will need to put in firm focus a strategy of attracting, developing and retaining workforces, while also being in a position to meet increasing wage demands.

Nationwide has always adopted this approach – Brexit or not – and we were the first window and door manufacturers to be recognised by GQA to offer in-house NVQ qualifications. We pride ourselves on staff service longevity and all our teams of surveyors and installers working in homes across the country receive top training and are incentivised on quality performance.

We don’t just pay lip service to employee development because ultimately the client and our business benefits from us maintaining levels of control rather than employing lots of temporary or agency staff.

The role of innovation

 While the last thing on anyone’s mind at the moment might be innovation, it’s important to recognise that in the short, mid and long term, innovation and solid IT and management systems have a critical role to play

Short term: Suppliers into the public sector who have robust IT management and logistics systems in place, will be in a better position to manage movement and release of stock where and when it’s needed

Mid term: integrated platforms that share data and knowledge between social housing landlords and their suppliers like Nationwide, will make the whole housing sector more efficient and potentially provide cost reductions as well as a better service

Long term: Off-site construction could not only speed up and reduce the cost of home building, but partially address the growing challenge of a shortage of workers in specific trades. It would also reduce the need for a migrant workforce.

By the time this article appears, we may have more answers and have made more progress. But for now, while we might not know as a collective market exactly where we’re going to land, whatever happens, all of the above attributes – Brexit or not – should form the basis of a healthy client provider partnership that will do its best to ensure continuity of quality supply good times or bad.