We’re still standing
Year 2020 started and ended on a positive note for VEO’s UK-based branch I.C. Electrical Ltd. (ICE). However, the months in between were dramatic as the pandemic swept into the UK with full force. Contrary to many other companies, ICE survived – thanks to the mother company’s unwavering support.
“The fact that we are still here, with our staff intact, is the greatest achievement in our history. Our staff has been utterly flexible and followed the constantly changing rules, for which I am very grateful. However, our greatest gratitude is towards the VEO Group that had their arms around us in the darkest of times. I have never felt a stronger togetherness”, says Tim McNeilly, Managing Director of I.C. Electrical Ltd.
On a national level, the construction industry experienced a staggering 40% fall in revenues. ICE, which mainly operates in the construction and infrastructure market, soon saw its promising order book dissolving. Projects in the pipeline were postponed, whereas projects already in progress incurred higher costs, which quickly made the situation unbearable.
“Like everyone else, we followed what happened in Italy at the beginning of the year, but no one was prepared for how hard and how soon the UK was to be hit”, McNeilly recalls.
After the first shock had settled, McNeilly and his team decided to stop, regroup and reset. Already in 2019, ICE had implemented increased project control and improved risk management to increase their efficiency.
“Now, we levelled up to further clarify the way we work to allow for even more cost-efficient project management. This was a challenge that we, together with VEO, set ourselves.”
A significant pandemic-related expenditure increase was related to site visits. The few hotels that were still open charged higher rates, and staff travelling from Staffordshire to Scottish sites had to take their car for the 16-hour drive back and forth instead of taking the short flights they usually would. ICE had no other choice than to start charging their customers accordingly. The customers were understanding and for the following contracts ICE managed to be awarded, ICE could price with COVID in mind already from the start.
“It takes a marriage between us as a supplier and the customer to reach a good way of working. The customers saw that we were making a real effort to secure the safety and welfare of everyone involved and therefore worked along with us”, says McNeilly.
Except for a short period of furlough, a system subsidised by the government covering up to 80% of an employee’s salary, ICE managed to keep their 65 head-strong staff employed throughout the pandemic. During a typical year, the staff would have been backed up by up to 70 subcontractors. During the pandemic, ICE was able to ramp down its business merely by not hiring subcontractors.
A helping hand
Throughout the most challenging months, from March through to July, the VEO Group had their arms around ICE.
“In management group meetings, I was very happy to hear that several other units were doing great – but it was tough telling them that we are not”, McNeilly admits. “At this time, we could feel the support and the energy from Finland.”
By working tirelessly together, the ICE team managed to turn a quite significant deficit into a modest profit by the end of Year 2020. This was down to the staff’s hard work, their flexibility and their scrutiny to follow the rules. The outlook for 2021 looks even more promising. The UK economy is expected to bounce back and ICE’s Q1 order book looks better than in any year so far.
In the words of our employees
“I am proud of the overall team here in the UK, where we have grown closer together during a very tough year. We handled the situation in 2020 like it was an engineering project by looking at each part, making sense of it and ensuring a straightforward approach. By the end of March we had produced, reviewed and sent out documentation to advise and allow our site teams to approach the unique situation for all our active projects. This was in the form of Health & Safety and working practices on site to ensure compliance with rules and regulations and to keep our site teams safe.”
Shaun Marriott, Engineering Director, I.C. Electrical Ltd
“The most lasting memory of the year is how well everyone adapted to the unusual circumstances, considering how strange the precautions felt when they were first introduced.
I feel the company handled the difficult situation very well and professionally. I was safe in the knowledge that the company was going above and beyond what was recommended to ensure the health and safety of its employees.”
Pat Radford, Site Manager, I.C. Electrical Ltd