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.”
University to host industry summit online
SUPPORTING industry’s recovery from the impact of the pandemic is a key priority for the University of Wales Trinity Saint David (UWTSD).
The University has a track record for working with industry through knowledge transfer, research innovation, workforce development and by providing a ready pipeline of skilled students and graduates, in partnership with employers.
In addition, UWTSD’s MADE Cymru initiative was established to support manufacturing industries in Wales to adapt to the challenges of Industry 4.0.
The initiative, funded by the EU via the Welsh Government, aims to support the economic recovery of manufacturers in Wales by offering part and fully funded training to businesses to upskill staff, as well as research and development that improves processes and products to reduce waste and costs.
In addition, UWTSD and MADE Cymru have organised an Industry Summit to be held online between June 8-10 to inform, engage and inspire businesses during this critical period of post-Covid recovery.
Expert speakers will be sharing their insights including James Davies from Industry Wales, Carol Hall, Regional Investment Manager, Development Bank of Wales, Chris Probert, Innovation Specialist, Welsh Government and Geraint Jones, Knowledge Transfer Adviser at KTN.
The line-up also includes Welsh manufacturers who will be sharing their own experiences, including Tim Hawkins, Managing Director, Markes International, Julia Chesney-Roberts, Commercial Manager, Riversimple, Angus Grahame, Founder of Splosh and Jacques Bonfrer, Co-Founder and Team Lead, Bot-Hive.
There will be guest talks from circular economy expert Eoin Bailey and lean author Daryl Powell and an opportunity to find out about the range of services offered by the University.
Graham Howe, Executive Head of the MADE Cymru project at UWTSD says: “This Industry Summit aims to explore issues and challenges facing manufacturing in Wales so that we can work together with employers to find solutions.
“We always start with asking a manufacturer what their biggest problem is today and look at how we can help them with it.
“We aim to unravel potentially confusing challenges like these. Our approach begins by looking at what companies need to increase their productivity and competitiveness.
“We aim to lead the businesses we work with through a journey of continuous improvement – a journey that makes the most of Industry 4.0 technologies and their ever-growing digital capabilities to help solve the specific problems faced by each company.
“All of the feedback we receive from businesses shapes our curriculum – we want to produce employable, digitally literate graduates who can contribute to their workplace from day one”.
Alison Orrells is CEO and Managing Director of Safety Letterbox and has been one of the organisations participating in the MADE Cymru initiative.
She said: “It was important to keep innovating and investing to set us apart and come out stronger. It’s been intense but we had a game plan – now it is all about business future-proofing, being agile, collaborations and being adaptable.”
Covid-19 has affected every part of a business and shifted the focus from production to survival.
UWTSD recently led a round table discussion with Welsh manufacturers about the future of manufacturing in Wales.
That discussion found that their outlook is positive about the future.
Manufacturers accelerated their adoption of new technologies to enhance and optimise production.
With many employees on furlough, managers took the opportunity to rethink and invest in better IT, particularly communications, training and diversified into new product areas. They looked to local colleges and universities to help shift perceptions of jobs in manufacturing and demonstrated the career opportunities and pathways available.
They also loosened their reliance on overseas imports and looked for suppliers in the UK to minimise future risk of disruption.
All sessions of the Industry Summit are free to attend and places can be booked on the UWTSD website: https://uwtsd.ac.uk/made/made-cymru-industry-summit/
Casual and part-time workers: Most vulnerable to job loss
A NEW series of reports that focus on the effects of Coronavirus on employment in Wales was published on Thursday, May 27, by Public Health Wales.
Young people, and those in precarious work have been identified as being especially vulnerable to employment changes caused by the pandemic, with mental wellbeing and struggles to find or keep work cited as major concerns.
Many young people are unaware of the support that is already available and how to access it, suggesting a greater need for organisations to engage with young people on a deeper level, to find solutions to the barriers they face for gaining good, fair employment –critical for people’s good health and wellbeing.
FURLOUGH HAD UNEQUAL IMPACT
Dr Benjamin Gray, Public Health Researcher at Public Health Wales, said: “18-29-year-olds are the age group with the highest proportion placed on furlough (41%) and 2.5 times more likely to have been placed on furlough than the 40-49 years age group and as such risk an uncertain future. Furlough could potentially mask a longer-term impact of Covid-19 on unemployment, and this is a concern, especially amongst this age group.”
Dr Ciarán Humphreys, Consultant in Public Health with the Wider Determinants of Health Unit at Public Health Wales, said: “Young people have told us they have been hit by a multitude of factors that will potentially have long-lasting effects on their employment prospects.
“It’s not just about being in work, though. It is the nature, quality, and long-term prospects of that work – good, fair work, that’s so important for people’s health. We saw this impact play out in the study.
“Some working young people we heard from struggled with the impacts of work changes outside their control on their mental wellbeing, whereas most of those in stable employment generally felt well, supported by their employer, and confident about the future.
“We know that at UK, Wales and local levels there have been important actions taken to mitigate the impact of these employment changes. However, some of these are expected to come to an end.
“A clear message from our work is that it will take a range of approaches to support young people responding to the employment challenges of the pandemic, to improve health.
“Action can be taken at national, regional and local level. Employers, too, have an important role in helping young people into good quality work, and that includes public sector organisations.
“If we are to safeguard future health we will need to work collaboratively and effectively, involving young people.”
The reports are the first in a series of planned employment analysis by the Public Health Wales Population Health programme exploring the impact of Coronavirus on the Welsh labour market and will help inform policy and decision-makers.
Further phases of the research will look at how challenges could be addressed as the economy reopens and recovers, so that those most at risk of longer-term harm from the crisis can secure decent quality future employment, training, and education.
Key findings across the reports were:
• Around a quarter of a million workers were employed in shutdown sectors in Wales (18 per cent of all workers) at the outset of the pandemic with young workers (aged 16-24) much more likely to be employed in shutdown sectors (36 per cent compared to 11 per cent of those aged 35-64).
• Young people faced varied and complex challenges due to the pandemic. In addition to the challenge in gaining, retaining, and partaking in good, fair work, issues raised included the effects of the temporary lockdown, such as disruption of vocational learning and home-schooling, or exacerbation of pre-existing issues such as the nature of employment for young people, Brexit and reported lower uptake of universal credit.
• Those who work in low-paid, insecure work have less protection and rights due to the ‘flexible’ nature of their jobs. Young people are chief among these due to the specific sectoral trends in employment contract types. These employment changes have also translated into significantly different impacts for distinct groups, with those living in deprived areas of Wales appearing to have fared worst.
• There is substantial uncertainty about the future, especially when government schemes such as furlough come to an end as these cushioned the economic pain caused by the pandemic.
• Young people have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic and are likely to feel the effects for some time with concerns over scarring effects on job prospects and the potential for higher tax in the future to pay for the financial support schemes introduced by the Government during the pandemic.
• While interventions are perceived by decision-makers and influencers to be available, apart from the furlough scheme, young people in this study did not, on the whole, appear familiar with them or accessing the support.
• It will be critical to ensure young people are involved in the development of future support.
• Evidence suggests that labour market policies can substantially impact the health of both the employed and unemployed populations in a positive way.
• A range of policies are linked with improved mental and physical health outcomes, as well as reduced health inequalities; however, some, such as benefit sanctions, have been linked to either no health benefit or even harm.
Welsh business confidence highest since 2014
BUSINESS confidence in Wales has grown to its highest level since 2014, a new report from chartered accountancy body ICAEW has found.
The Business Confidence Monitor(BCM) report for Wales found that confidence had climbed to its highest level since the third quarter of 2014.
This was likely due to the successful rollout of coronavirus vaccines, which led Welsh businesses to expect a strong economic recovery with hopes of large increases in domestic sales following falls over the past year.
Businesses reported that domestic sales had fallen slightly, while exports suffered the biggest fall seen since the BCM began in 2004, as global demand fell sharply during the coronavirus crisis and lockdowns reduced companies’ ability to transport their goods abroad. The contractions in sales also led to profit levels falling for many businesses.
A third of Welsh businesses said customer demand was a growing problem, but regulatory requirements were the most widespread concern, cited by over a third of companies. This was likely because of post-Brexit customs controls which affected Welsh exporters who are more reliant on the EU market than in other parts of the UK.
Some 30% of businesses cited transport problems as a growing source of difficulty, compared to 16% the year before.
Employment levels stayed largely the same over the past year. This was helped by the extension of furlough scheme, which should continue to limit job losses, at least temporarily.
Beverley Waters, ICAEW Regional Director for Wales, said:“It’s positive news for the Welsh economy that businesses are feeling more confident for the future, doubtless a reflection of the vaccine rollout and prospects of a strong recovery.
“While challenges remain, Welsh businesses expect domestic sales and exports to increase once again. This is a positive outlook for our economy, which is needed after a difficult year.
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