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Construction output rebounds to pre-Covid levels

15 Jan Construction output in Great Britain rose past pre-pandemic levels in November 2020 for the first time, latest official statistics indicate.

The level of construction output in November 2020 was 0.6% (£80m) above the February 2020. This was thanks to repair & maintenance work, which was 7.4% above the February figure; new work remained 3.1% below its pre-pandemic level.

However, February was a somewhat poor month itself, with construction output inhibited by poor weather. November’s output is still down 0.3% (£40m) on January 2020.

Month-on-month GB construction output grew by 1.9% in November 2020 (compared to October), the Office for National Statistics reports. A 3.5% increase in new work more than offset a 0.6% fall in repair & maintenance; this was the seventh consecutive month of growth since the record decline (40.7%) in April 2020, when much of the industry shut down.

In the three months to November 2020 construction output grew by 12.4% compared with the previous three-month period, because of growth in both new work (11.9%) and repair and maintenance (13.2%).

Commenting on the numbers, Fraser Johns, finance director of construction contractor Beard, said: “For the first time we’re seeing output returning to pre-pandemic levels which is clearly cause for cheer, particularly as November was a lockdown month. In recording a seventh consecutive month of growth, the construction sector has bucked the national trend where the economy shrank overall during the period. But what is also encouraging is the reverse in the slow rate of growth that we’ve seen, going from 1.0% in October to 1.9% in November.

“But while we hope that the vaccine rollout and a Brexit trade deal in place should lead to less uncertainty broadly, we are still faced with new strains of the virus and a national lockdown, with the impact that has with schools closed and restrictions at every level.

“Realistically the fallout for businesses from Brexit could yet take months to fully understand which means an element of volatility in the short to medium term. However, the new business secretary’s open letter to the construction industry is welcome reassurance in this current period.

“As we now face several more weeks of lockdown, it’s clear that the construction sector has had to adapt but that keeping sites open and projects going was the right thing to do, for jobs and the wider economy.”

Table 1: Construction output main figures, comparison periods, Great Britain

  Type of work Initial fall: change in construction output February 2020 to April 2020 (%) Recovery: change in construction output April 2020 to November 2020 (%) Difference in construction output February 2020 to November 2020 (%) Difference in construction output February 2020 to November 2020 (£ millions)
Total all work   -42.8 75.8 0.6 80.0
  Total all new work -44.1 73.5 -3.1 -282.0
  Total repair & maintenance -40.3 79.8 7.4 360.0
New housing          
  Public -68.1 144.3 -22.1 -122.0
  Private -58.4 150.4 4.2 124.0
Other new work          
  Infrastructure -24.8 45.1 9.1 167.0
  Public -26.6 23.7 -9.3 -83.0
  Private industrial -45.7 63.0 -11.5 -54.0
  Private commercial -42.1 50.0 -13.1 -314.0
Repair & maintenance          
  Public housing -47.0 100.0 6.1 41.0
  Private housing -50.9 119.4 7.7 134.0
  Non-housing -30.8 55.5 7.6 185.0

The table above shows the change in output for the types of construction work between February 2020 and November 2020. While all repair and maintenance sectors have recovered above their February 2020 pre-lockdown level, most new work sectors are yet to do so except for infrastructure and private new housing.

It is notable, ONS said, that while the housing sectors (new work and repair and maintenance, both private and public sector) saw the largest falls in March and April 2020 they have since bounced back relatively strongly from April to November 2020 compared with the other types of work. However, public new housing work in November 2020 remains 22.1% (£122m) below the February 2020 level.

Table 2: Construction output main figures, November 2020, Great Britain

  Type of work Value £m % change, November 2020 v. October 20 % change, November 2020 v. November 2019 % change, Sept-Nov 2020 v. June-Aug 2020 % change, Sept-Nov 2020 v. Sept-Nov 2019
Total all work   14,014 1.9 -1.4 12.4 -3.2
  Total all new work 8,801 3.5 -6.0 11.9 -8.2
  Total repair and maintenance 5,212 -0.6 7.3 13.2 6.7
New housing            
  Public 430 -2.4 -28.6 12.1 -28.4
  Private 3,072 4.7 -3.2 21.4 -5.1
Other new work            
  Infrastructure 1,995 9.6 10.6 6.6 1.6
  Public 814 -2.8 -2.7 5.6 -3.3
  Private industrial 414 3.8 -16.2 16.3 -17.6
  Private commercial 2,076 0.2 -15.2 6.3 -14.6
Repair & maintenance            
  Public housing 714 5.7 4.8 31.6 -0.9
  Private housing 1,876 -6.0 4.6 13.4 7.0
  Non-housing 2,622 1.9 10.1 9.0 8.6

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