The electrical contracting sector in the time of Covid-19

The massive blow that Covid-19 has dealt to the European economy is not sparing electrical contractors. While the situation is still evolving and the so-called “peak” mentioned by all governments has not yet been reached, it is already obvious that the current slow-down in activity will severely impact our sector.

To date, it appears that all Member States are to some extent impacted, as well as the UK, Switzerland and Norway. In two of the countries that were among the first to lockdown – France and Belgium – construction sites, where electrical contractors comprise an important share of the activity, are closed in 80 and 70% of cases (respectively). More sites might stop very soon because of growing health and safety concerns. This trend of slow-down can be observed in all European countries.

Electrical contractors are particularly preoccupied because their activity comes at the very end of the value chain: they install and maintain electrical installations for the end-users. Therefore, when a construction project cannot arrange to work with safe isolation or a distributor cannot sell materials and tools, electrical contractors have no means to work.

In this very uncertain time, there is one thing certain: European electrical contractors need their governments to explain whether they can still work (and under which conditions) or if they have to stop completely, which is hardly realistic in the case of urgent electrical operations (whether it is maintaining a critical building, e.g. a hospital, substation,  or making sure that an installation is safe for the inhabitants). More and more States are working with the sector to define agreed guidelines with contractors, to enable our workers to stay safe and keep on working when possible.

In the meantime, national associations of electrical contractors are showing responsiveness by having specific websites with FAQs and setting up call centres for their members to be informed and supported.

In all countries, governments are implementing State aid and various other policy schemes to support their economy. Electrical contractors, who employ almost 2 million professionals in Europe and consist in majority of SMEs, cannot go overlooked.

Indeed, all across Europe, SMEs from the electrical sector are reporting huge difficulties regarding cash flow shortage and liquidity, because of the slowdown and of longer delays in payments. It is crucial to avoid liquidation thanks to a swift implementation of the announced public support schemes.

EU institutions have started to present a very ambitious and multi-faceted plan to tackle the Covid-19 crisis and the recovery of the economy. EuropeOn is communicating regularly with its members to make the most of the support prepared by the EU.

EuropeOn, alongside its members at the national level, is becoming vocal on its concerns for the electrical contractors’ future. We have already called for an open dialogue with EU institutions through a joint letter regarding the construction sector.

Besides the Covid-19 situation itself, electrical contractors have a rising concern: that the Green Deal – of which the ambition towards energy efficiency, e-mobility and sustainability has our full support- might be either delayed or dwarfed by the magnitude of the ongoing crisis. Furthermore, some Eastern Member States have suggested to postpone the Green Deal. This is why we consider, with fellow European associations, that, on the contrary, we need the European Green Deal to restart Europe.

A swift and green recovery plan is essential for our activity, as the large workforce that electrical contractors employ, often operating for local SMEs or very small enterprises, is going to be a critical link between the energy industry and the end-users, at the forefront of the energy transition.

Julie Beaufils

Secretary General of EuropeOn