The first quarter of 2019 is flying past and the local business sentiment remains challenging but significant projects are materializing. To put things into perspective 2018 was the worst year for construction project awards since 2004. In recent years we have seen the oil prices crash 76 per cent from June 2014 – January 2016, fiscal consolidation to limit deficits and debt, GCC projects market crashed one third in 2016 and the introduction of new taxes and fees in 2017. There has also been cuts in energy subsidies, an oil production cap agreed from 1 January 2017, reform visions announced but progress slow, however there has been some bright spots in Dubai, Bahrain, Oman and Egypt.
Within the construction sector we have seen weakening fundamentals such as falling property prices which is threatening the economic viability of some projects. While projects are still being pushed ahead, the danger is that if the fundamentals do not improve the problems will be worse later on in the project cycle. There has also been a notable shift towards infrastructure projects as the private sector investment into real estate dwindles and the government spending is supported by higher oil prices.
As there are fewer projects and a large supply of contractors it means there is intense competition which drives down margins, and with little contingency priced into tenders the risk of project failure is rising. There is also a notable failure in the supply chain where project delivery is failing as suppliers and subcontractors go out of business – key trades and items such as cladding and MEP are main choke points.
GCC states are seeking to diversify fuel resources for power generation increasing the number of major renewable energy projects – solar, wind and also waste-to energy and even hydro (Dubai), coal and nuclear. With the Baraka nuclear project in the UAE nearing completion the market is waiting for Saudi Arabia to push ahead with large atomic energy programme.
Some of the key policies shaping the GCC market include:
- Fiscal consolidation to cap spending as finance ministries seek to minimize deficits and limit debt levels
- Diversification of national revenues through taxes and fees
- Localization of jobs and supply chain
- National visions setting out long-terms goals, key projects and economic reform programs and privatization leading to restructuring and hiatus in public sector spending
- Energy efficiency and security drive to reduce consumption and protect hydrocarbon assets
- Critical infrastructure for economic diversification
- Private finance/PPP and other alternative sources
- New sectors to create jobs and drive revenues
From a Branch perspective we need to be aware of the economic climate and tailor are activities accordingly. A branch meeting was held on 10th February 2019 at Dubai Civil Defence Headquarters and two new members joined the committee, Rob Davies and Eoin O’Loughlin. Key areas that were discussed was the role of secretary which Matt Bright will be taking on and Eoin will become the Educational Representative.
The business plan will be undergoing a refresh and all committee members will have input into its development. A separate work stream will focus on the structure of events including continuing professional development (CPD) and networking/social events. Sponsorship remains a key focus and Terry Johnson will take a lead role in this area with the support from the rest of the committee.
At the time of writing the examination season is fast approaching and the Examination Centre will be at the Johnson Controls Training Academy in Dubai. There are 16 candidates sitting 35 papers on the 14 & 15th March 2019.
International General Assembly (IGA) Update
At a recent IFE Board of Directors and International General Assembly meeting (18th & 19th February 2019) some positive news was highlighted to the attendees. Membership remains strong at c.9,600 with a 20% increase at associate grade and 216 new applications to upgrade membership status. The 2018 HQ finances look encouraging and Graham Cory (CEO & Company Secretary) reported a projected surplus of 46,000 GDP against a previous estimated deficit for the year. The board will be looking at the Memorandum of Association and Articles and continue to work towards the Royal Charter.
Grant Lupton (Chairman) highlighted discussions on the future of the IFE in particular succession planning. Grant also spoke about the work going into the updated Strategic Plan which will include business plan targets specifically aimed at board member’s portfolio’s which will bring in a level of accountability at board level. As part of the future nomination to the board there will be appointment criteria including an expected level of skills and experience at senior management level – the detail of the requirements for board applicants is still under review but a more thorough vetting process will be introduced for board nominees.
The IGA had two positive sessions one of which was a joint meeting with the board of directors. The first session purely for the IGA focused on 3 key areas, namely:
- Online Membership Application Process (OMAP)
- International Development
Of particular interest was the on-going development of OMAP where online application can now be completed for Affiliate Membership (individual and organization) and Student Membership. The introduction of online systems such as OMAP will improve general efficiency at HQ with the removal of very time consuming manual tasks. The OMAP system is still undergoing further development and BETA testing but when fully commissioned will be an enhancement to new members and existing members looking to upgrade their status.
IFE Firefighter Safety Database
The IGA received several presentations and updates from members of the special interest groups (SIGs). I would like to focus and encourage members and readers to have a look at the Firefighters Database on the main IFE website: https://www.ife.org.uk/Firefighter-Safety.
Adam Course has been instrumental in driving forward the development of the IFE Firefighter Safety Database which is designed to enable firefighters and others to learn from past experience where that experience has resulted in injury or loss of life to firefighters, or where critical learning points have been identified.
Supported by the National Operational Guidance and National Operational Learning programme, all UK Fire and Rescue Services, willing international Fire and Rescue Services and other organisations, we hope and believe the database will become a world-leading safety resource.
The information in the database does not apportion blame, imply judgment or make any accusation of wrong-doing. It exists solely to promote understanding of what happened at major incidents and so help prevent injury or loss of life in similar future incidents.
The cases described on the database are wide ranging, diverse and the sort which could confront any firefighter at any time anywhere in the world. Firefighting and rescuing people from fires is inherently dangerous, but by learning from the past we can help mitigate the risk.
It is often the case that repeated, closely related lessons recur in incidents and events of all types, so if firefighters and others involved in fire-fighting, rescue, fire engineering and building design understand how dangerous incidents escalated (or indeed were managed well), the information presented by that case study has the potential to help improve decision making and thereby make a positive difference to firefighter safety.
The database will expand over time. Phase 1 presents information on post-WWII incidents in the UK where firefighters have died. Future phases will cover “other incidents of interest” and “international incidents of interest”. It is recognised there are gaps in some reports and Adam would welcome assistance in gathering further relevant information. The success of the database will be proportional to the amount of information contributed to it. Although some historical information is available from Fire and Rescue Services, user contributions will represent a valuable further source of information.
All information on the database has been quality assured by the IFE Firefighter Safety Special Interest Group. Fire and Rescue Services and other organisations have donated and supplied freely a wide variety of information including images, reports, powerpoints, and other useful learning materials.
For more information, go to www.ife.org.uk/branches/GCC-UAE