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Construction output falls

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RISING costs and uncertainty relating to Brexit are to blame for the sharp drop in output growth in January 2019, the Federation of Master Builders (FMB) has said in response to the latest Purchasing Managers’ Index data (PMI).

The Chartered Institute of Purchasing and Supply (CIPS) Construction Purchasing Manager’s Index incorporates survey results provided by construction firms throughout the country.

A reading above fifty suggests the construction sector is expanding, while a reading below fifty suggests the construction sector is in contraction.

The January 2019 PMI data revealed a fall from 52.8 in December to 50.6 in January, against the neutral reading of 50.0. January data pointed to a loss of momentum for the UK construction sector, with business activity growth grinding to its weakest for ten months.

All three categories of construction output recorded weaker trends than those reported in December.

Residential work was the strongest performing area, although the latest expansion was only modest and the slowest seen since March 2018. Civil engineering activity increased marginally, with the rate of growth much softer than December’s 19-month high.

Commercial work was the weakest performing area of construction output in January. Latest data indicated a decline in work on commercial construction projects for the first time in ten months. Anecdotal evidence suggested that Brexit-related anxiety and associated concerns about the domestic economic outlook continued to weigh on client demand.

New business growth eased to an eight-month low in January.

Construction firms widely commented on softer demand conditions and longer sales conversion times, reflecting a wait-and-see approach to spending by clients. Concerns about the near-term outlook for new projects resulted in more cautious staff hiring policies at the start of 2019. The latest survey pointed to the slowest rise in employment numbers since July 2016.

However, construction firms remain positive about the outlook for business activity in 2019. Around 41% of the survey panel anticipate a rise in output, while only 16% forecast a fall.

Optimism had, however, fallen month on month. Large-scale civil engineering projects were cited as a key source of optimism, while Brexit uncertainty was the most commonly cited concern.

Tim Moore, Economics Associate Director at IHS Markit, which compiles the survey: “UK construction growth shifted down a gear at the start of 2019, with weaker conditions signalled across all three main categories of activity.

“Commercial work declined for the first time in ten months as concerns about the domestic economic outlook continued to hold back activity.

“The latest survey also revealed a loss of momentum for house building and civil engineering, although these areas of the construction sector at least remained on a modest growth path.”

Duncan Brock, Group Director at the Chartered Institute of Procurement & Supply said: “The sector suffered a sharp drop in output growth in January, and the softest rise in purchasing volumes since September 2017, as Brexit continues to hamper progress and dampen client confidence.

“The biggest shock came in the form of job creation which has managed to suffer the slings and arrows of Brexit highs and lows with solid hiring since the referendum result. Employment rose at the slowest rate since July 2016 and with optimism also in short supply, the sector only needs a small nudge to tip it closer to a recession.”

Commenting on the results, Brian Berry Chief Executive of the FMB, said: “The latest PMI data show a slowdown in growth in construction with business activity growth easing to its weakest for ten months. The ongoing political uncertainty is partly to blame for this setback.

“Political uncertainty is the enemy of construction firms that rely on the spending power of homeowners to commission home improvement projects. The UK is set to leave the EU next month, and yet we are still none the wiser about what the future holds. Given these intense headwinds, it should not be surprising that the sector suffered such a sharp decline.”

Mr Berry continued: “Alongside the political uncertainty, the cost of doing business is also rising for construction firms up and down the country. Material prices have been rising steadily since the depreciation of sterling following the EU referendum.

“Looking ahead, material prices are expected to continue to cause a headache for the construction industry with recent research from the FMB showing that 87% of builders believe that material prices will rise in the next six months. What’s more the construction skills crisis means that key trades are extremely difficult to recruit and the upshot of this is rising wages in construction.

“Tradespeople know they can command higher salaries than they did previously as workers are scarce, and this means a squeeze in margins for firms. This will only worsen if the post-Brexit immigration system that the Government has planned goes ahead.

“If the sector isn’t able to draw upon crucial EU workers of all skill levels, who have so far served to mitigate this shortage, the slowdown of growth will continue.”

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MPN Windows becomes Which Magazine Trusted Trader

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FAMILY-OWNED MPN Windows, Doors and Conservatories has become a member of a prestigious national trade body and have also recently become accredited as a Which Magazine Trusted Trader.

Independent Network only accepts the country’s most professional window and door companies, and each one must undergo rigorous vetting before being allowed to join, and display the IN branding.

Companies like MPN must then agree to continuous auditing to ensure they maintain that same level of absolute professionalism.

Paul Webster, owner of MPN explained: “Independent Network imposes very strict criteria on its members; we must commit to using exceptional quality VEKA materials and every single one of our customers is given a customer satisfaction report to complete, which is sent directly back to the organisation – so they can make sure we are as good as our word when it comes to quality products and installations.

“In this way, IN can be sure that we continue to operate to the highest standards and they are happy to offer our customers a fantastic ten year insurance-backed guarantee.

“This provides complete peace of mind for customers. They can rest assured that their investment is safe and protected, and they can see – at a glance – that we carry the Independent Network logo, which signifies that we’re among the top VEKA fitters in the UK.

“We were award-winning members of the organisation for many years, back when it was known as Network VEKA, and then we changed PVC-U suppliers and were no longer eligible.

“Although the quality of our products was still good, we are so committed to customer satisfaction that we decided to make the move back to VEKA PVC-U so that we could rejoin the network and offer our customers all the benefits that go with it.

“Benefits include things like deposit protection, insurance-backed guarantees, finance options and a phenomenal choice of window styles and colours, to name just a few.”

MPN Windows becomes a Which Magazine Trusted Trader

At this family run business, MPN have managed to create a successful blend of 25 years’ experience in double glazing along with being an innovative online company. We offer our customers the opportunity to arrange a free home visit or get an instant quote all via our numerous digital channels including our website to facebook to whatsapp.

Independent Network’s Karen Lund said: “It’s been great to welcome MPN back to the organisation. The company has won numerous awards for customer satisfaction over the years, and we know that the team represent everything we want to see from an IN member.

“They are committed to quality, service and professionalism, and I’m sure we’ll see them win even more customer satisfaction awards in the years to come.”

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New female brewing duo drop the alcohol but not the flavour

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DROPPING the alcohol, not the flavour – that’s the mantra of The Drop Bear Beer Co. a new brewery that brings female chutzpah to the male-dominated world of brewing.

Founded in Mumbles earlier this year by ‘Melburnian’ Sarah McNena, and ‘Swansea Jack’ Joelle Drummond, Drop Bear’s non-alcoholic beer is already making waves.

A decidedly Welsh-Australian enterprise, the brewery’s quirky name has antipodean roots along with a personal connection for the couple, who met in Sarah’s native Australia.

Explains Sarah, “The Drop Bear is essentially a bit of fun Australians have with visitors. Tourists are told to look out for this mythical koala bear dropping on them from the trees – and Joelle fell for the joke too!”

The pair aim to ‘disrupt’ the traditional view of the non-alcoholic beer market, and have successfully produced 100% natural beverages that are below 0.5% ABV, vegan-friendly, low calorie, low sugar, and additive-free.

At 0.3 ABV Tropical IPA is – as its name suggests – ‘tropical, fruity, and sessionable’, while the 0.4 ABV Yuzu Pale Ale is ‘fruity, tart, and fresh’. They will be joined this autumn by Drop Bear’s stout which promises to be ‘dark, edgy, and packing a’tude.’

At 25 and 27 respectively, Joelle and Sarah are at the heart of the healthy lifestyle-conscious millennial market they want to capture.

Says Joelle, “We want to prove that real beer doesn’t need alcohol to have fun, and we aren’t scared to push boundaries. We are millennials, and they are the fastest growing demographic. They and we want something with more kick and excitement, and a brand they can relate to.”

Likewise, female empowerment Joelle says is at the core of Drop Bear’s ethos, and the pair are keen to champion women in what is a predominantly male-dominated arena.

“We are the only alcohol-free craft beer company in the UK that’s run by women.”

Local government project manager Sarah, and former French and Italian translator Joelle, began their brewing journey in their kitchen.
Apart from Sarah having previously made some homebrew, the pair were complete novices when it came to creating a craft beer – but they knew what they wanted to achieve.

Says Joelle, “We started with a big saucepan, a jam thermometer, and a load of grain and gave it a go!”

By trial and error “there were long nights and an exploding fermenter”, the pair eventually came up with recipes they liked – and enlisted the help of experts in the industry to ensure their beers would pass muster in the highly competitive brewing sector.

Explains Sarah, “As we don’t have a brewing background, we contacted a master brewer and sommelier who looked at our recipes and gave us advice.”

Only a couple of months into production and Drop Bear beers are already making significant in-roads with a Michelin-starred restaurant a customer, and the opportunity to showcase their beer at an event in the House of Commons. Also, the beers are available to buy online from www.drydrinker.com.

However, without the current capacity to brew on a commercial scale at home, for now, Drop Bear beers are produced in Yorkshire, but the plan is to bring the whole process to Wales as soon as possible.

Says Joelle, “We want to show what Wales and women have to offer in the brewing industry.”

Joelle and Sarah have been helped in their brewing adventure by Cywain – a Menter a Busnes delivered project that supports the development of growth orientated businesses in the food and drink sector in Wales.

Says Joelle, “Cywain has been great, especially with networking opportunities and advice on running the financial side of the business. They have run a number of workshops and 1-2-1 sessions covering a range of topics such as sales, distribution channels, and business health.

“All of this is provided free of charge, which I’m sure you can understand is key for a business in its early days. Cywain are also just generally lovely people and we look forward to attending a number of events with them in the near future!”

Says Cywain Development Manager, Nerys Adams, “”It’s been great working with Joelle and Sarah over the past couple of months and seeing massive progression in such a short space of time. The girls have taken full advantage of the support on offer from Cywain attending a finance surgery, a sales and marketing workshop to name but a few.

They are working very hard to establish themselves in a male dominated sector and I’m excited to see what happens next for them. I’m sure they’re going to make a great success of the business and I’m delighted that Cywain is playing a part in helping them achieve their ambitions”.

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New funeral advice website will help Llanelli people make better funeral choices

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INDEPENDENT funeral directors in Llanelli are supporting a nationwide digital consumer initiative to help people better understand the funeral process and avoid falling victim to rogue operators.

FuneralAdvice.org has been created by GE O’Driscoll and Daughters’ trade association the National Society of Allied and Independent Funeral Directors (SAIF) to provide non-promotional information about funerals.

The website is in response to consumer research by the Competition and Markets Authority, which highlighted a lack of public awareness about funeral options. Its aim is to help the public gain the knowledge it needs to make informed choices when it comes to saying goodbye to a loved one, in addition to signposting to aftercare and bereavement support groups.

Often a distress purchase, funerals are bought at a time when people are in an extreme emotional state and ill-equipped to make decisions about spending significant amounts of money.

Gemma O’Driscoll, principal funeral director at GE O’Driscoll and Daughters, said: “As an independent, family-run business, we know it’s important for funerals to be tailor-made for the families we serve. One of the first things those families seek from us is assistance and advice. People purchase funerals at a period in their lives when they are often ill-equipped to do so, and we therefore always try to provide precisely what people need at what is going to be a distressing time.

“Having information digitally and in one place means people will have access to a wide range of subjects, which they can study at a time which suits them. This initiative provides honest, straightforward advice in a simple and effective way, which can only be beneficial to people looking to make the most informed decision they can.”

Terry Tennens, Chief Executive of SAIF, said: “There is lots of information online about funerals but none of it sits in a central space. We think this makes it difficult for people to understand the funeral market. The aim of FuneralAdvice.org is to act as an impartial hub with simple, non-promotional information as well as a signpost service to other organisations that might be of assistance.”

He added: “We hope that as a result of the information on FuneralAdvice.org, the public will gain a better understanding of the funeral process and that when the time comes they are fully prepared in terms of knowing what they want and what questions to ask of prospective funeral directors. This will ensure more people are able to secure a funeral that meets their needs, in terms of style, elements and above all, cost.”

FuneralAdvice.org has been designed in a way which follows the funeral process, across five accessible sections:

1. ‘Arranging a Funeral’ covers topics including what to do when someone dies, funeral choices, coffins, vehicles, direct cremations and DIY funerals.
2. ‘Choosing a Funeral Director’ talks about shopping around, trade associations, care of the deceased and funeral plans.
3. ‘The Day of the Funeral’ lets people know what to expect when a funeral happens.
4. ‘After the Funeral’ talks about paying the funeral bill, complaints and family donations.
5. ‘Further information’ includes links to other organisations dedicated to providing a wide support to bereaved people, from emotional to financial.

FuneralAdvice.org will evolve over time as funeral trends change and new information becomes available. SAIF is happy to take approaches from third parties interested in collaborating on the site to include non-promotional information that will be of benefit to the public.

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