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Civils contractors remain cautious about growth

10 Aug 20 After an unprecedented drop in workloads in the spring, UK civil engineering contractors are only tentatively optimistic about growth prospects in the months ahead.

Results from the latest Civil Engineering Contractors Association (CECA) workload trends survey found that a balance of 43% of members saw their workload decline in the second quarter of 2020, the lowest balance since 2011.

This was the period that the Covid-19 virus most impacted the UK economy. In late March the prime minister put the country in lockdown and in April most construction sites locked their gates for several weeks. Many civil engineering contractors continued working on essential infrastructure works, but with new operating procedures – including social distancing – hampering productivity.

The CECA survey found the eight out of 10 sectors saw workloads decline during the second quarter, while order books fell for a net balance of 32% of firms.

Airports (-81%) and harbours & waterways (-45%) reported survey-record low balances.

Overall, there is more optimism than pessimism regarding workloads in the next 12 months, but not much: a net balance of 15% (or, more accurately, 15 percentage points) expect work to rise. The prime minister has promise to 'build, build, build' wiht 'an infrastructure revolution' but that has clearly not yet translated into overwhelming confidence among civil engineering contractors.

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CECA director of external affairs Marie-Claude Hemming said: “These statistics cover the early stages of the pandemic, when disruption was at its highest and many sites closed to implement safe working procedures. They show the full impact of Covid-19 on the economy, but also the potential for the infrastructure sector to act as a driver of growth as we seek to secure the UK’s recovery.

“While it is perhaps surprising that just 15% of firms on balance are expecting increased workloads in the next year, we would expect as the UK government rolls out its investments in infrastructure, it will work with industry to accelerate schemes and this outlook will improve.

“There is a substantial pipeline of work that must be brought forward to market as expeditiously as possible. We look forward to working with government at all levels to ensure every measure is taken to enable our members to deliver the schemes that will create jobs, boost growth, and benefit businesses and communities across all parts of the UK.”

Source: Civil Engineering Contractors Association (CECA) workload trends survey Q2 2020
Source: Civil Engineering Contractors Association (CECA) workload trends survey Q2 2020

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