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05/05/2021

SME workloads grew in Q1 of 2021

Words: Laura Edgar
House-building / iStock: 1097893660

Workloads, enquiries and employment all grew for small to medium-sized (SME) construction firms in between January and March (Q1) of 2021, according to the Federation of Master Builders (FMB).

Its latest State of Trade report found that enquiries with local building firms increase at their fastest rate in a decade. The FMB warned that this is fuelling significant difficulties with shortages of construction materials.

It found that 55 per cent of FMB members reported higher total workloads in Q1 compared with the final two months of 2020. Of the respondents, 20 per cent reported a drop in workloads, resulting in a positive net change for Britain’s builders.

The report also found:

  • Activity in all sectors grew, but repair, maintenance and improvement saw the strongest performance, with 55 per cent of respondents reporting increased workloads.
  • 38 per cent of builders are struggling to hire bricklayers, up from 22 per cent in Q4 2020.
  • 34 per cent are struggling to hire carpenters/joiners, up from 23 per cent in Q4 2020.
  • 93 per cent of builders said materials prices were rising.

Whereas workloads and enquiries were “firmly in positive territory” in England’s regions, builders in London reported the slowest activity.

Workloads were also positive in Wales and Northern Ireland, but respondents in Scotland continued to report contracting workloads, with builders in Scotland not permitted to carry out non-essential construction work for the period January to March, owing to lockdown restrictions.  

Brian Berry, chief executive at the FMB, said: “I am delighted to see the positive reports from builders across the UK that workloads, enquiries and employment are all firmly back in positive territory after a difficult year for business. In the first quarter of the FMB’s 80th year, it is particularly pleasing to see enquiries grow at their fastest rate in more than a decade. However, success is not without its challenges. A whopping 93 per cent of builders reported material price increases in the period January to March, with particular concerns over accessing roof tiles, glazing products, timber and insulation.”

He explained that the worrying impact of material price increases is that "quality builders are at risk of being undercut by unscrupulous traders offering lower quotes to homeowners".

He urged consumers to be aware that the cost of building works may change in the months ahead as access to materials continues to be a problem.

Berry concluded: “With the construction skills shortage slowly creeping back up the agenda, it’s clear that there is significant capacity in the sector to take on new entrants and create much-needed jobs. I am bitterly disappointed over the decision to cancel the Green Homes Grant scheme, which offered an opportunity to not only bring more people into construction but also to tackle climate change. The government’s answer to this must be a long-term National Retrofit Strategy, that has the backing of industry from the outset.”

Image credit | iStock

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