Contract cleaner sector trends

Two female contract cleaners in grey uniforms cleaning cleaning the stairway of a building

(last updated July 2019)

What has been happening in the contract cleaning sector

Demand for contract cleaning services has grown steadily over the years for several reasons:

  • many businesses which previously used to employ their own cleaning staff decided to 'out-source' the cleaning work to external cleaners
  • the public sector has been obliged to put out to tender many services, including building cleaning
  • recent moves towards daytime cleaning has made contract cleaning cheaper and more convenient for customers
  • stringent hygiene standards in the food industry has created demand for specialist cleaning businesses
  • any organisation providing care - such as hospitals, hospices and nursing homes - must maintain very high standards of cleanliness
  • the appearance of business premises of all types has become increasingly important, so regular cleaning is essential
  • demand has grown for specialist firms able to remove chewing gum and graffiti or to undertake the cleaning of hospitals and so on
  • domestic householders have less and less time to devote to cleaning - either on a regular basis or to do one-off jobs like carpet cleaning

However the industry has remained very fragmented, with many small businesses, often operating from home. Competition is intense and has kept rates low and, as this is a very labour-intensive industry, staff wages also have remained low. This has led to problems recruiting and retaining able employees. There are many illegal workers in the contract cleaning industry. You should be aware that employers face hefty fines if they unknowingly employ unauthorised workers - and operators who knowingly employ illegal workers face a prison sentence.

Recent years have seen the industry attempting to improve standards and raise the status of the cleaning industry through education and training. The British Institute of Cleaning Science (BICSc) Licence to Practice training scheme (part of the Cleaning Professionals Skills Suite) covers the core skills needed by cleaning operatives. Once achieved, the Licence to Practice is valid for three years, following which the operative is assessed and re-trained if necessary.

Some larger contract cleaning businesses have introduced a range of other facilities management services for customers such as security, building maintenance, porterage and so on.

Customers have become increasingly concerned about the environmental impact of cleaning products and procedures. Some contract cleaners have switched to using environmentally friendly cleaning products where possible, enabling them to advertise their 'green' credentials to potential customers.

Be aware that during periods of economic downturn - such as during the late 2000s/early 2010s - demand for cleaning services falls because business customers close down or merge, or reduce the amount they spend on cleaning services. Public sector cuts also reduce spending on public buildings and social housing maintenance. Although the economy is now in better shape, both business and domestic customers are still price sensitive and looking for good value from their service providers.

You will have to decide whether:

  • there is sufficient demand in your area to support your proposed cleaning business
  • you will be able to compete successfully against established contract cleaning businesses
  • you will be able to recruit and retain able staff. Bear in mind that you will have to comply with a great deal of employment legislation. This may lead to cost increases over which you have little control - for example, the introduction of the National Living Wage for workers aged 25 and above in April 2016. You may also find it more difficult to find workers once the UK has left the EU - a lot of employees in the cleaning industry currently come from Eastern Europe

Keeping up to date with developments

Joining a trade association is an excellent way of keeping up with developments in your industry.

The British Cleaning Council (BCC) is a blanket association that is made up of over 20 members, including the National Carpet Cleaners Association, the Federation of Window Cleaners and the British Toilet Association. Together with Quartz Publishing & Exhibitions, the BCC runs the annual Cleaning Show trade exhibition. Visit the BCC website for more information.

The British Institute of Cleaning Science (BICSc) is not a trade association, but an independent body with members from all areas of the cleaning industry. It sets the standards for a range of qualifications in cleaning and support services. Contact the BICSc at 9 Premier Court, Boarden Close, Moulton Park, Northampton NN3 6LF.

A subscription to a trade journal, such as Cleaning Hygiene Today (CHT), published by KPM Media, is a useful way of keeping up to date with new developments in the sector.

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