The Merry Month: by Robert Merry

Robert Merry, MCIOB, is an independent Stone Consultant. He ran his own stone company for 17 years before becoming first an independent project manager and now a consultant. He is also an expert witness in disputes regarding stone and stone contracts. 0207 502 6353 / 07771 997621. [email protected]

“Construction is second only to domestic violence in terms of forced labour. 18% of all slave labour is working in construction”. 

Stone consultant and Expert Witness Robert Merry reflects on a few summer highlights... in case you missed them.

Hope you’ve had a golden summer. It has flown past on masked wings (eventually unmasked in most locations).

I finished reading The Geology of Oxford Gravestones by Nina Morgan and Philip Powell. A fascinating journey of stone and its geological features. I particularly liked the references to Kendal Mint Cake to describe the texture of Carrara marble.

A few summer highlights in case you missed them.

There’s a new third-party certification scheme for cladding operatives. The National Federation of Roofing Contractors is working on a CITB-funded project to define “Competency for Rainscreen cladding”. Based on an existing RoofCERT model, it involves independent auditor assessment of three key competencies – knowledge, ability and mandatory health & safety courses.

A new single enforcement body is to be set up by the Department for Business Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) to tackle modern slavery and protect the minimum wage. “Construction is second only to domestic violence in terms of forced labour,” says the BEIS. “18% of all slave labour is working in construction”.

August in short (or long)

There has been a 450% price increase for a 40ft (12m) container, Asia to Northern Europe passage. A friend who wholesales slabs told me the cost of a container has risen to more than £7,000 and that has to be reflected in the price of his slabs.

81% of constructions firms reported material cost increases in May 2021 compared with May 2020.

And we need...

216,800 – yes, that’s two hundred and sixteen thousand eight hundred – construction workers by 2025, according to the CITB. Not entirely sure where all these extra bodies will come from now many of the EU workers the industry relied on have returned home, either because of Brexit or Covid.

Those who missed applying for settled status in the UK have no incentive to come back here, either. Some of them were being paid less than the minimum wage and were subject to forced labour (modern slavery). Why would you return to that?

Changes to construction products testing delayed

Initially, there was to be a Brexit transition period ending in December this year to move from Harmonised European product testing to a UK version. That is, the CE Mark was to be replaced with the UKCA Mark.

But with many firms struggling to organise testing as they try to cope with product shortages blamed on Brexit-increased bureaucracy and costs, the Government has decided to delay the process for a least two years.

I cannot understand why we left the European Union in the first place and this, for me, is more proof of the incompetency of the decision.

On a more optimistic note (yes, there is one) Cononish has become home to Scotland’s first commercial gold mine.

The owners, Scotgold (see what they did there?) have reported its first ‘gold pour’. The announcement came on St Andrew’s Day (of course), 30 November last year.

Cononish rents the land in the middle of a National Park from the farm of the same name. The BBC made a documentary called Gold Town about the mine. I have to confess I missed this.

Some interesting figures regarding extraction: An initial £34million capital investment and £81million operating costs over its lifetime.

The target gold production is a measly 666.2kg a year. That’s from a mine estimated to have reserves spread over a kilometre. A lot of extraction for such small returns, until you take into consideration the market price of gold is about $60 (£45) a gram. That’s annual sales of about £30million. About four years to break even. Not bad.

I might take up mining in Hackney. I understand there is a rich vein of old stone men buried deep beneath my house worth upwards of 4p a gram.

If anyone would like to invest £34 in this venture – for the benefit of the nation, of course – please contact this magazine.

I would aim to give you a return on your investment in... let’s say about 40 years.

In fact, I could well be part of the return by then.