A boom in repair and maintenance work helped finally push construction activity past pre-covid levels, with official March figures showing output surged by 10%, according to the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics.
Housing Today reported that construction output in March this year was 2.4%, the equivalent of £334m, the February 2020 level – the month widely considered to be the last one unaffected by the pandemic with the first lockdown being imposed on 23 March last year.
However, PBC Today quoted Clive Docwra, managing director of property and construction consultancy McBains, who highlighted the current supply issues affecting building materials (something Advantage has written about previously when considering the challenges faced by construction this year).
Clive Docwra said:
“With order books steadily being filled as confidence returns and the industry recovers from the downturn over the previous year.”
Private new housing has been a key driver
“March represents the largest monthly growth since July 2020 when output grew by 17.8%. Private new housing has been a key driver, and a landmark has been reached with output now above pre-pandemic levels.
“One slight reservation is that while new contracts continue to come in, construction firms are being squeezed by soaring prices of imported materials, notably concrete, steel and timber.
“With margins already tight, the rising cost of raw materials threaten to negate any profit gains, so many construction firms remain on a knife-edge.
“These increasing costs also serve as a warning sign of global inflationary pressures, which could derail any sustained longer-term growth.”
Advantage’s view: While the focus in 2020 was on the uncertain financial outlook during the pandemic, in 2021, construction output has gradually been building back to the pre-pandemic levels seen in March. The question now will be whether difficulties in sourcing materials, and the rising cost of imported materials, will dampen the growth we saw in the first quarter.
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