Small construction firms enjoyed rising workloads in the first quarter of 2017, despite growing concerns over the cost of labour and materials, according to the Federation of Master Builders (FMB).
The survey, which covers the period before the snap General Election, indicates that the first three months of 2017 was positive for the construction sector, with one in two construction SMEs predict rising workloads in the coming months. Just 5% predict a decrease in activity.
Costs are a concern, however, with 85% of builders believing that material prices will rise in the next three months.
Brian Berry, Chief Executive of the FMB, said: “The first three months of 2017 proved to be very positive for construction SMEs, which reported strong growth. Despite Article 50 being triggered and the growing likelihood of a hard Brexit, these latest results demonstrate that builders are increasingly confident about the immediate future, with one in two forecasting higher workloads during the next quarter.”
The FMB also found that a rise in output costs for construction companies is now taking place. Berry noted: “Material prices and wages rose markedly in the first three months of this year, with larger numbers of construction SMEs believing that all three will rise further during the next quarter. Indeed, although only 20% of construction products and materials used in the UK are imported, the depreciation of sterling since the referendum last June has seen material prices shoot up – with 85% of builders predicting further rises – this pressure on margins looks set to continue. Such cost inflation presents clear challenges to the profitability of smaller building firms and in many cases, builders will be forced to pass these price increases onto their customers.”
Berry concluded: “The combined effects of rising material costs and the ever-worsening construction skills crisis will therefore be reason enough for SME construction firms to be cautious in their optimism. If growth in real household income remains flat, and if consumer confidence is shaken by the impending snap General Election and the triggering of Article 50, there are plenty of potential pitfalls for builders to navigate. Nevertheless, as of yet, the much anticipated ‘Brexit effect’ has yet to hit what is considered to be the bellwether sector of consumer confidence and wider economic health.”
The FMB’s State of Trade Survey is the largest quarterly assessment of the UK-wide SME construction sector.