Construction output figures reveal a slight dip in April

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MONTHLY UK construction output fell by 0.4% in April 2022 – the first monthly decline seen since October 2021, according to the latest figures released by the ONS.

The decrease was driven by a fall in repair and maintenance work (2.4%), offset slightly by a rise in new work (0.9%). The fall was partly attributed to a by-product of the 3% growth in March due to demand caused by the repair work experienced from storms Dudley, Eunice and Franklin.

Despite the monthly fall, the level of construction output in April 2022 was 3.3% above the February 2020 pre-pandemic level. And output increased 2.9% in the three months to April 2022 – the sixth consecutive growth in the three-month on three-month series.

The Federation of Master Builders (FMB) said the 0.4% fall in output in April is particularly concerning for small builders, given the stats around repair, maintenance and improvement work (RMI).

Brian Berry, chief executive of the FMB, said, “Signs of stagnation in construction output should concern policymakers at a time when the smallest firms in the sector are already struggling to stay afloat. The cost-of-living crisis hitting consumers, coupled with persistent difficulties in affording pricey building materials and recruiting skilled tradespeople, mean that the months ahead will become increasingly difficult to navigate for these local construction firms.

“At a time when these local building firms should be recovering from the pandemic, they are instead entering another period where survival will be their primary aim.”

Beard Construction finance director Fraser Johns said that, on the face of it, the sector is on a continuing road to recovery, albeit a ‘tentative’ one. He added, “We should not be concerned by the small monthly decline in output volume. This is a re-balancing of the figures after they were temporarily inflated in March by a rise in demand for repair work after the winter storms.

“Instead, we should focus on the bigger-picture Q1 output, which shows a more encouraging 2.9% growth for the sector with April output more than 3% above pre-Covid levels. That said, the drop in private commercial work to more than 25% below pre-Covid levels is a reminder that, for some areas of the sector, the recovery remains fragile.

“As the year unfolds and growing inflation carries on pushing up material prices, continued recovery will rely on open and honest conversations between main contractors, customers and the supply chain to ensure the cost plans for delivering schemes are both robust and realistic for all parties.”