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SME Workloads Growth Positive for Nearly Six Years

Construction firms stated they now face a larger shortage of carpenters and joiners than bricklayers

Number of small-to-medium construction firms reporting higher workloads increased to 37% in Q4 2018

Small-to-medium (SME) construction firms reported higher workloads in the final quarter of 2018, the latest State of Trade Survey reveals.


According to the report by the Federation of Master Builders (FMB), 37% of UK SMEs saw their workloads increase in Q4 2018, compared with 32% in the previous quarter, whilst just 13% of firms stated workloads were declining, down from 16% in Q3.


This equates to 32 quarters, or nearly 6 full years, of consecutive growth for SME construction workloads in the UK.


Forecasts for future workloads over the next three months softened in the final quarter, with 33% of businesses predicting rising construction assignments, down slightly from 36% reported in the third quarter of 2018.


Residential construction firms in particular noted a jump in workloads, with 36% of businesses reporting a rise in assignments, up from 28% in Q3.


The majority of builders (87%) still expect material prices will increase over the next six months, up slightly from the 86% recorded in the previous trade survey.


However, the proportion of SME construction firms anticipating wage increases over the same period rose from 58% in Q3 to two-thirds (66%) in the last quarter of 2018, whilst the number of companies reporting difficulties with hiring carpenters and joiners increased from 59% to 64%.


Conversely, recruitment pressures for bricklayers eased between the quarters from 68% of firms in the previous survey to 61% in Q4 2018.


The FMB’s Chief Executive Brian Berry said: “The final quarter of 2018 proved to be a largely positive one for the UK’s small and medium-sized (SME) construction firms.


“However, in these precarious times, there is no room for complacency. Brexit uncertainty is intensifying and as such, expectations for the future have become more pessimistic in comparison to the previous quarter.”


Build-to-rent housing construction also had a strong finish to the year, with the British Property Federation reporting a 39% year-on-year increase in the number of purpose-built rental homes under construction in 2018.

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