But despite the slowdown in activity, builders are feeling more optimistic for 2020
The FMB’s state of trade survey for Q4 2019 found that a net balance of 21% of firms reported that workloads had declined since the previous quarter – a worsening from a 16% negative balance in the Q3 survey.
However, 37% of builders predicted higher workloads over the coming three months. And employment activity moved back into positive territory for the first time since Q1 2019 with nearly one in five (19%) builders reporting an increase in staffing levels
FMB chief executive Brian Berry said: “The end of 2019 was a very turbulent period in the UK, both politically and economically, with Brexit gridlock and a general election. When you consider this, along with the bad weather we saw in October, it is not surprising that the order books of small and medium-sized construction firms took a hit. We know that many consumers were holding off making important spending decisions until the outcome of the general election was known and this took its toll on workloads.”
Mr Berry continued: “Builders are more optimistic for the for the future, however, with over a third of SMEs predicting higher workloads over the coming three months. We are yet to see if there has been a so called ‘Boris bounce’ yet, following the election result, but there are some positive signs. For example, employment levels amongst SMEs have returned to positive ground for the first time since the start of 2019. This of course, brings with it concerns around skills shortages, and SMEs continue to struggle to hire key trades such as bricklayers and carpenters.”
He concluded: “With the budget due in early March, this provides a perfect opportunity to restore some confidence back into the construction industry. Builders will be instrumental in delivering key government objectives such as 300,000 new homes by the mid-2020s and reaching net zero carbon emissions by 2050. Radical policies will be needed to deliver these targets which should include reform of the planning system and a new strategy to make our existing homes more energy efficient.”