Gypsars and Daubers Online Event 3
Helen Tapper, President of the Finishes and Interiors Sector (FIS)

Online: 18th June 2020

It was very fitting that the third event in our series would be about the trade and profession that the Plaisterers’ Livery Company represents. Helen Tapper is the President of the Finishes and Interiors Sector.  Better known as FIS, this is, in Helen’s words, a dynamic and collaborative network created to raise standards, drive quality and support the sector. It includes contractors, manufacturers and distributors of ceilings, facades, partitions plastering, drylining and special interior fit out and refurbishment businesses.  It is the nearest that the plastering trade has to a trade body. We are lucky that Liveryman Jon Riley of Locker and Riley sits on the FIS board.

Helen has visited Plaisterers’ Hall on a few occasions. She was the guest of the Company in November 2019 at the annual Training Awards and hosted the FIS Awards in the Hall in February where I was a guest of FIS.  There is a growing closeness of purpose and engagement between the Livery and FIS and so it was excellent that Helen was able to give her time and a professional PowerPoint presentation to the Livery.

Helen is part of a family business called Tapper Interiors. This is an interiors business that has a speciality in car showrooms and other interior fit outs. Motor showrooms benefit from regular refreshment of their interiors that provides, in good times, a steady stream of work.

However Helen was asked to speak particularly about the impact of Covid19 on the business and the sector. This made some very salutary listening and food for thought for us all. She started in saying that it was not presently fun to own a business.  They were all in limbo. Everyone was working out how to comply with the Government’s guidelines to work from home, unless you could not do so, whilst also socially distancing and complying with contractual obligations. The construction industry in Scotland closed down entirely. In England it kept going so far as it could. Alok Sharma the Secretary of State for Business wrote at an early stage congratulating the construction industry for keeping going on “key and essential projects”. However, the guidance on what was key was minimal and the public and media were confused. Businesses feared for their staff working in this way.

At this stage the FIS galvanised a very decisive plan worked on by the CEO Iain McIlwee and created the FIS Risk Management Toolkit. Many businesses needed help to agree a standard procedure for working and one that would protect their staff and them in the current unclear and difficult situation. Daily mailshots are going out  to the FIS members giving legal and practical updates as to what they should and could do. A health and safety taskforce group helped with the important advice in this area. PPE was a major problem. Many contractors would wear this anyway due to the work and conditions of their sites but this now became difficult to obtain. A moral dilemma arose about taking equipment that might be needed for the NHS. Whilst sites were operating partially,  only 12 % surveyed said that they were operating at a profit – this is not sustainable for the industry. Low productivity and decreased profit margins are a major problem. The Government helped with the Job Retention Scheme and business loans which Helen felt worked well for the businesses. However they are only temporary and the real need is to get back to work fully and profitably.

Helen’s talk provoked many questions. Concern about apprentices and colleges not being able to operate was one issue. It was felt too early to know how this would impact on the workforce but apprentices are the future. She predicted that there were likely to be redundancies in the short term, maybe in the region of 10- 15% across the industry. This might also reflect a reduction in the pipeline of work.

Helen showed that FIS had proved how vital it was to have an organisation that could meet the needs in the dire situation. She felt confident that should a further wave of sickness hit, with a further lockdown, that the construction industry was now prepared and could react and weather the storm much more effectively. It was good to find a brighter note to end a really informative and interesting webinar.  We are fortunate as a Livery to be able to build these links and hope that this collaboration and assistance will continue in this positive way.

Alderman Alison Gowman, Master Plaisterer

Watch the full event below: