Mark Austin – The President’s Perspective
In this exclusive GLASSi interview, GGF President Mark Austin shares his views on the state of the industry, the GGF and has a message for GGF Members on how to cope and prepare for better times ahead.
It is over 8 months since your Presidency began and it’s fair to say no one could have predicted how 2020 would have unfurled. What have been the major challenges for you?
There is no way to sugar coat what the entire industry is currently still in the mist of going through, including on-going supply chain problems, logistical issues, adapting to the necessary social distancing and costs of Covid-19 precautionary measures, which has had its own challenges in terms of getting hold of adequate and sufficient PPE, hand sanitiser and screens etc., and the GGF has provide good guidance to help the industry follow the restrictions and operate safely.
One major challenge was the extremely difficult decision during lockdown was to have to take the legal advice from the GGF’s auditors and solicitors to close the GGF Fund Ltd to any new business from 1st April 2020 at very short notice. It was the last thing GGF Members needed to hear during lockdown with the uncertainty that was swirling around at that time and we were all wondering how long this was going to last and how on earth each business was going to survive.
Whilst very unfortunate, the strong advice given proved to be very sound, when only 2 days later the underwriting insurers also withdrew from writing new deposit indemnity insurance business. It was always the intention of the GGF to find an insurance based product to replace the Deposit Indemnity Fund and it is hoped we can announce more details on a new product soon.
Adapting to the new normal of all GGF meetings being virtual ones, and all GGF staff working from home has not been without its challenges as all mail had to be redirected and dealt with to ensure both GGF Members and Consumers continue to receive the best possible customer service possible in such circumstances.
As GGF President it was a major blow when we also had to cope with the fallout from the loss of Everest Ltd (one of the GGF’s founder members), when the company went into pre-pack administration.
I dare not think the state the industry would be in today without the Government’s furlough scheme, but thankfully the Government realised they had to do something substantial, which thankfully they did.
Another major challenge our industry faced in the last few months was the Government’s Green Homes Grant Scheme. When it was announced in early July that the Scheme would be launched sometime in September, it was a real set back to the glazing industry as the lack of detail until mid-August (which at the time of writing has still not all been finalised i.e. which composite doors will be included or excluded).
For the first week my phone was running off the hook as I was contacted by GGF Members and non-Members from across the industry wanting clarity. The GGF and FENSA did all they could in the circumstance, by reporting accurate factual timely information for members and in pushing Government for more details.
Normally, the industry would welcome any scheme that incentivises consumers to spend on energy efficient home improvement but Government had not consulted with industry beforehand and left so many unanswered questions with the early announcement.
When more details were released (over 5 weeks later), it was revealed that the scheme was limited to the replacement of single glazing (with double, triple or secondary glazing) only, along with potential some composite doors being restricted to being “secondary measures”, which only can be accessed once one or more “primary measures” have been installed.
With a further restriction was detailed that the spend on the secondary measure is limited to either equal or less than that of the primary measure, it was clear that the Green Homes Grant Scheme is a major disappointment and a significant set-back for our industry. It has also left the industry with the task of educating consumers on the scheme’s complicated details from which the vast majority of equally disappointed as they are unlikely qualify for the scheme.
How do you feel the Federation has coped since the COVID-19 outbreak?
I was very proud of the way the GGF Management and staff have rallied round throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, taking steps before the actual lockdown to pre-empt one should it come, to ensure that GGF Members and FENSA Registered Installers were still able to make contact and receive help and support. Many of the Managers and staff worked long extra hours and weekends for no extra pay, something for which I wish to formally thank them on behalf of all members and clients connected to the GGF and its group of commercial subsidiary companies including FENSA, BFRC, InstallSure RISA and Borough IT.
What are the big challenges facing the GGF over the next 6-12 months?
Not being able to use the GGF Offices at 40 Rushworth Street in London since mid-March has been a real challenge, and I am delighted a safe phased return to the building is starting in September. For the re-opening, we had to carry out the necessary risk assessments and ensure new precautions and policies were put in place, so anyone entering the building would be as safe as is possible. Like most businesses, the GGF has had to permanently change the way it operates to ensure it adapts to the new normal in order that its capacity to serve its members is not reduced. As a consequence, it was had to invest in many new extra laptops and mobile phones to ensure that its staff can work as effectively from home as if they were in the GGF Offices, as not all the staff will be returning initially due to general safety, social distancing and to ensure all Government guidelines are followed.
With the GGF focus over the next 6-12 months being helping and supporting all GGF Members during what is clearly going to be a slow, painful and cautious recovery, the GGF will continue to invest in its Members’ services. With plans in place and in action, when we do reach the end of the tunnel, the whole industry should be in a genuinely strong position to then kick-on once there is an up-turn.
Members’ Week is your first annual conference as GGF President, how do you feel about it being entirely virtual?
Personally I’d much rather GGF Members Day was able to happen and we were all able to gather together in person and network as we have done so effectively in the past. As this is clearly not remotely possible, holding my first annual conference as GGF President virtually is to be embraced, as the new way of working, doing business, supporting members and interacting has also brought about many ways to improve the ways we communicate and deal with suppliers and consumers alike. We all know we won’t ever be going back to how things were in the past, as GGF Members have found they can save so much time, money and resources by not travelling, which in terms of reducing our carbon footprint is to be welcomed.
Members’ Week is a unique and ambitious project for the GGF, what do you think Members should expect?
My hope is that GGF Members will engage with the GGF throughout Members week and by the end of it feel they have really benefitted from contributing and from seeing and hearing the many different contributors. The fact the GGF is offering a “Menu” of events and information targeted at its Members, it gives each and every GGF Member the opportunity to dip in and out online as it suits them so that they can feel the time they do spend virtually interacting with the GGF Group and its Members proves genuinely fruitful.
What message would you give to the GGF Members for the future?
There is no point trying to put an overly positive spin on the short term future, as nobody knows how long the pandemic will be around for and the extent to which it will affect business, consumer confidence and the confidence of all GGF Members staff to return to working in the office – particularly those who have offices in large cities with insufficient office space to enable all staff to socially distance.
My personal view is that 2021 in financial terms could turn out to be even more challenging than 2020, so it is very fortunate the GGF Group has a strong financial foundation and sufficient reserves to weather the many storms that I still think sadly are ahead. My suggestion is that, as they have always done, GGF Members support one another, rally round and stay in the boat, as we’ve proven together we are stronger and by doing so, better equipped to cope with the rough seas ahead with all hands on deck.
Mark will open proceedings at Members’ Week on 29th September at 10.30am.
To join both Mark and John Agnew at the GGF Members’ Week webinar click the banner below: