New work surges as materials shortages ease

Construction output has once again bounced back above the pre-pandemic high-water mark after a strong surge in new work during November.

A 5.7% hike in new work lifted overall construction output by 3.5%, despite a small decline in repair and maintenance workloads.

Monthly construction output recovery

The surge lifted overall activity above the February pre-pandemic high for the second time after the initial rebound recovery started to be dragged down by a slowing of workloads 12-months ago due to bad weather and then material shortages.

Total work is now running 1.3% above the February 2020 high.

The Office for National Statistics attributed the latest upbeat contractor workload returns to strong demand for work, in combination with supply chain bottlenecks for certain products easing and the unseasonal mild and dry weather.

Infrastructure new work and private housing new work were the largest contributors to the monthly rise in November, increasing by 11.4%  and 5.5% respectively.

Private housing repair and maintenance was the only sector to fall.

Trend three-month totals showed growth had taken hold across most sectors with only commercial and public housing new work lagging behind in the broad industry recovery.


Renewable energy projects along with road and rail developments are contributing significantly to the large increase in this type of work over the last 18 months.

Private housing repair and maintenance was the only sector to have fallen, decreasing by 2.4%.

Mark Robinson, group chief executive at public procurement body Scape, one of the UK’s leading public sector procurement authorities, said: “Further growth in the autumn, set against the context of the long-term inflation and labour supply challenges that characterised much of last year, clearly demonstrates the industry’s resilience.

“But, the impact of Omicron in exacerbating ongoing staff shortages means that the sector is likely to endure further disruption over the coming months.”

“Public sector construction will continue to make up a significant volume of the industry’s output.

“With the overhaul of the government’s procurement standards gathering pace, those looking to capitalise will need to invest heavily in their ability to deliver enhanced social value and meet the net-zero ambitions of clients in the sector.”

Construction output shows fastest rise in four months

Construction buyers reported the fastest rise in output  in four months in November with commercial work leading the way.

The bellwether IHS Markit/CIPS UK Construction PMI Total Activity Index hit 55.5 in November – up from 54.6 in October.

There were also signs that the worst phase of supplier delays may have passed, with the portion of survey respondents citing longer delivery times falling to 47% in November compared with a peak of 77% in June.

A steeper rise in commercial construction (index at 56.5) helped offset a sight showdown in house building growth (54.7, down from 55.4).

Civil engineering was the weakest-performing area in November (53.9), although the latest rise in activity was the largest since August.

Duncan Brock, Group Director at the Chartered Institute of Procurement & Supply, said: “UK construction enjoyed a rebound in November with the fastest level of output growth for four months as supply chain managers increased their purchasing activity to meet a strong pipeline of new building projects.

“Adding to this positivity was signs of recovery in supply chain performance with just 47% of construction firms reporting longer waiting times, which is the smallest number for eight months.

“Even with this glimmer of hope that the pressure on deliveries was easing, purchasing remained at higher level to counteract disruptions from ongoing driver shortages and port delays as supply chain managers bought more than their immediate need.

“Job hiring growth was still maintained in November but was the weakest since March. Builder optimism was somewhat flat as the costs of building still remained high
and firms struggled to stay competitive.”

Tim Moore, Director at IHS Markit, which compiles the survey said: “Input price inflation remains extremely strong by any measure, but it has started to trend downwards after hitting multi-decade peaks this summer.

“The latest rise in purchasing costs was the slowest since April, helped by a gradual turnaround in supply chain disruption and  a slight slowdown in input buying.”

Employment figures holding steady following end of furlough scheme

80% of industries reporting record job vacancies

According to the latest labour market stats from the ONS, October saw 29.3 million employees, up by 160,000 on the revised September statistics. However, it was noted that it’s possible these figures may change while furloughed staff, who were made redundant, work out their notice period. But responses to the ONS survey suggest that redundancy numbers are likely to be a small share of those still on furlough when the scheme came to an end.

The Labour Force Survey estimates that for July to September 2021 the employment rate increased 0.4 percentage points on the quarter, to 75.4%. ONS reported that the increase in employment was because of a record high net flow from unemployment to employment. Total job-to-job moves also increased to a record high, largely driven by resignations rather than dismissals, during the same period. The rise is also driven by an increase in part-time work and an increase in the number of people on zero-hour contracts, driven by young people.

The unemployment rate decreased 0.5 percentage points to 4.3% while the inactivity rate remained unchanged at 21.1%.

But we have yet to see the full effects of the end of the furlough scheme and the relevance of zero-hour contracts in these figures. David Head, Director at TALiNT Partners commented: “Zero-hour contracts, if implemented ethically between employer and employee, are perfect because they allow flexibility in the workforce and allow businesses to expand and contract whenever necessary. However, having vast numbers of people on zero-hour contracts will inevitably mask the true numbers of the unemployed.”

The latest figures show that the number of job vacancies in August to October 2021 continued to rise to a new record of 1,172,000. This is an increase of 388,000 from pre-pandemic numbers of January to March 2020 level, with 15 of the 18 industry sectors showing record highs.

During the quarter, annual growth in average total pay (including bonuses) was 5.8% and regular pay (excluding bonuses) was 4.9%. Annual growth in average employee pay has been affected by temporary factors that have inflated the headline growth rate. These factors are now waning and will have a smaller impact on growth rates, according to the report.

James Reed, Chairman of REED commented on the continued increase of job vacancies: “This ongoing rise in job vacancies is a positive sign of the economy’s continued revival. Rapid job creation means there are plenty of opportunities to go around, and not just for those recently off furlough, but also for others who have faced long or short-term unemployment as well as those already in work who are seeking a new challenge.

“After experiencing a cautious labour market during the pandemic when job opportunities were restricted and workers were less incentivised to move, there has never been a better time to look for a new role than now.”

Permanent placement growth eases in October but remains sharp

The Report on Jobs is unique in providing the most comprehensive guide to the UK labour market, drawing on original survey data provided by recruitment consultancies and employers to provide the first indication each month of labour market trends.

The main findings for October are:

Permanent placement growth eases but remains sharp

October data signalled a further strong rise in recruitment activity across the UK, with both permanent placements and temp billings rising steeply. That said, the rates of expansion were the softest seen for six months, as a number of recruiters mentioned that candidate shortages had weighed on their ability to fill roles.

Candidate shortages remain severe

The overall availability of staff declined again at the start of
the fourth quarter. The rate of deterioration eased further from August’s all-time record, but was nonetheless the fifth-sharpest seen since the survey began in October 1997. Reduced candidate availability was often linked to a combination of high demand for staff, general labour shortages, fewer foreign workers and hesitancy among employees to switch or seek out new roles.

Growth of demand for staff softens only slightly

Although growth of demand for staff slipped to a five-month low in October, it remained substantial overall and much quicker than the series average. Slower, but still strong, increases in vacancies were signalled for both permanent and temporary roles.

Starting pay inflation accelerates again in October

A combination of candidate scarcity and robust demand for staff added further upward pressure on rates of starting pay. Notably, both starting salaries and temp wages increased at the quickest rates seen in over 24 years of data collection, as companies offered higher pay to attract and secure staff.


					

£1.5bn of New Funding for Transport

Local authorities have welcomed chancellor Rishi Sunak’s transport spending boost announced in the Spending Review last week. However, there was some initial confusion over how much of the £7bn Sunak said would be allocated to urban transport across England was actually new money. The DfT later confirmed that of this amount £1.5bn is new funding.  Some £4.2bn for cities was first announced in 2019, while the bus grants will be coming from the 3bn National Bus Strategy announced in March.

Greater Manchester will receive just over £1bn for Metrolink trams, bus corridors and the Bee Network active travel project.

West Midlands will get around £1bn for metro stations and bus rapid transit schemes, with West Yorkshire (£830m), South Yorkshire (£570m), Tees Valley (£310m), the West of England (£540m) and Liverpool City Region (£710m) the other beneficiaries.

However, the North East Combined Authority (NECA) missed out on transport funding as it is the only English region without an elected mayor. DfT’s spokesperson told LTT: “The last Spending Review and Budget noted that these settlements are subject to appropriate governance being in place. A mayor with transport powers that is in control of a mayoral combined authority would be an appropriate governance structure to receive this funding, and Government welcomes future devolution proposals from the North East.”  

Alongside the local transport spending pledges, the announcement for the Road Investment Strategy 2 money was revised down from the £27.4bn announced last year to £24bn. The DfT said this was due to delays to the major schemes at Stonehenge and the Lower Thames Crossing. “The A303 at Stonehenge has not been cancelled,” DfT’s spokesperson said. “The secretary of state will now redetermine the application, and as a live planning case, it would be inappropriate to comment further at this time. 

“The Government is still spending £27bn on major roads schemes, just over a slightly longer period as a result of delays to some major schemes, including Stonehenge.”

In July campaigners won a High Court case to prevent the £1.7bn scheme that includes a tunnel near Stonehenge. 

There were expectations that the chancellor would raise the prospect of new forms of road charging but this was not mentioned, and Fuel Duty was frozen for the twelfth year.

HS2 dig unearths “astounding” Roman statues

Archaeologists working on HS2 project have uncovered a set of rare Roman statues whilst excavating a Norman Church in Stoke Mandeville, Buckinghamshire.

The work has been carried out by HS2’s Enabling Works Contractor Fusion JV (Morgan Sindall Infrastructure, BAM Nuttall and Ferrovial Agroman), and its archaeological contactor, L-P Archaeology.

In the final stages of the excavation at the site of the old St Mary’s Norman church in Stoke Mandeville, archaeologists were excavating a circular ditch around what was thought to be the foundations of an Anglo-Saxon tower.

As they dug down, they uncovered three stone busts which are stylistically Roman. Two of the busts comprise of a head and torso which had been split before deposition, and the other just the head. The two complete statues appear to be one female adult and one male adult, with an additional head of a child.

You can view the video of the discoveries on the following link:

In addition to the statues, an incredibly well-preserved hexagonal glass Roman jug was also discovered. Despite being in the ground for what is thought to be over 1,000 years, the glass jug had large pieces still intact.

The team can only find one comparison for this, a completely intact vessel which is currently on display in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Other finds include large roof tiles, painted wall plaster, and Roman cremation urns.

Dr Rachel Wood of AECOM, Lead Archaeologist for Fusion JV, said: “For us to end the dig with these utterly astounding finds is beyond exciting. The statues are exceptionally well preserved, and you really get an impression of the people they depict – literally looking into the faces of the past is a unique experience.

“Of course, it leads us to wonder what else might be buried beneath England’s medieval village churches. This has truly been a once in a lifetime site and we are all looking forward to hearing what more the specialists can tell us about these incredible statues and the history of the site before the construction of the Norman church.”

Mike Court, Lead Archaeologist at HS2 said: “HS2’s unprecedented archaeology programme has given us new insights into Britain’s history, providing evidence of where and how our ancestors lived.

“These extraordinary Roman statues are just some of the incredible artefacts uncovered between London and the West Midlands. As HS2 builds for Britain’s future, we are uncovering and learning about the past, leaving a legacy of knowledge and discovery.”

London reports lowest job vacancies with highest number of unemployed


The ONS’s most recently published labour market figures show that vacancy numbers have reached another record high with the number of payroll employees up by 207,000 having surpassed pre-pandemic levels. This is 122,000 higher than levels seen before the pandemic hit in February.

The UK’s employment rate increased by 0.5 percentage points last quarter to 75.3%, while the unemployment rate was down 0.4 percentage points to 4.5%.

The ONS stated that the number of job vacancies increased by 318,000, with all industry sectors above or equal to the levels seen between January to March last year, before the first lockdown.

Record vacancies may not be good news

According to analysis of job listings by Adzuna, people looking for work may not be in the right areas to fill them, with different regions facing different employment challenges. London is by far the worst place for workers to be in if looking for employment, with more people looking for work than jobs advertised. The capital city had 13.4% of over 16 unemployed or furloughed which was the highest in the country. Vacancies were 104% of what they were pre-pandemic, but this was the smallest growth nationally.

The opposite is true in Northern Ireland, where vacancies grew 154%, the second steepest in the country, but there are comparatively fewer people looking for work.

This location phenomenon could result in continuing crisis for businesses battling to find staff as the economy grows.

Pay increases on the rise but not enough to secure candidates

Growth in average total pay (including bonuses) was 7.2% and regular pay (excluding bonuses) was 6% among employees for the three months June to August 2021.

Darren Morgan, Director of Economic Statistics at the ONS commented: “The jobs market has continued to recover from the effects of the coronavirus. The latest earnings continue to show growth on the year, even after taking inflation into account. However, the figures are still being affected by special factors that make it hard to read underlying trends.”

Matthew Percival, Programme Director for Skills and Inclusion at the Confederation of British Industry, said: “Companies have found hiring difficult this autumn and the official data is beginning to tell the same story, with the number of people on payroll exceeding pre-COVID highs and record vacancies.

Responding to the ONS earnings and employment figures, Matt Weston, UK Managing Director of global recruitment firm Robert Half, said:

“We’re currently seeing demand above and beyond pre-pandemic levels, and despite the so-called ‘Great Resignation’ creating a tsunami of turnover, we are still experiencing a saturated market where the demand for skilled talent outstrips the supply. The competition is evident with the increase in median monthly pay showing the strength of candidates’ influence when agreeing terms with a new employer.”

Keltbray buys nmcn infrastructure business

Keltbray has agreed a deal to acquire a portfolio of infrastructure contracts and associated assets from nmcn which went into administration last week.

The latest move secures the futures of 117 former nmcn employees and Keltbray will take over existing contracts with immediate effect.

Some infrastructure contracts were not transferred as part of the deal leading to 19 redundancies

The acquired contracts will be managed within Keltbray’s existing infrastructure division reporting to Managing Director, Phill Price.

Keltbray CEO, Darren James said: “Keltbray are pleased with the ‘on strategy’ opportunities presented by the acquisition of these contracts, working with clients on some of the UK’s most important infrastructure projects.

“Today’s announcement accelerates our plans to build a resilient, growth-oriented business.  Equally important, we have also safeguarded 117 valuable jobs and livelihoods that could otherwise have been lost to our industry.

“The acquisition has required a very rapid, but collaborative approach, and Keltbray would like to thank all parties for their proactivity throughout.  I look forward to working with my new colleagues as we build a rewarding future together as one Keltbray.”

The Keltbray deal is the final sell-off of nmcn which went into administration last week.

Galliford Try bought the water business for £1m saving 900 jobs while Svella picked-up the telecoms, plant hire, transport and accommodation divisions saving 680 jobs.

Administrator Grant Thornton was unable to find a buyer for the building division leading to 80 redundancies.

Spokesperson for Grant Thornton, Rob Parker said: “We are very pleased to have secured this third sale which means that within less than a week of our appointment we have secured over 1600 jobs and helped to maintain continuity and minimise the impact for the greater majority of nmcn’s customers, many of which were involved in important infrastructure projects across the UK. It was important to ensure that transactions were completed as quickly as possible.

“Sadly it was not possible to transfer all of the Infrastructure contracts and therefore regrettably we have today announced 19 redundancies.

“Our focus as administrators now turns to assisting the purchasers of the various parts of nmcn with post completion matters and dealing with the other assets of the company.  We will be providing further updates in due course.

“The Joint Administrators would like to thank the efforts of Lee Marks, Alan Foster and the nmcn and Grant Thornton teams for their hard work in achieving these sales.”

Clancy Delivers Strong Profit Growth as Margin hits 4.5%

Civils contractor Clancy Dowra has delivered strong financial performance and boosted its order book to £1bn after a successful group restructure.

Chairman Kevin Clancy says strategic work done through 2020-2021 and in the years immediately preceding it has ensured the firm has solid foundations in place

Chairman Kevin Clancy says strategic work done through 2020-2021 and in the years immediately preceding it has ensured the firm has solid foundations in place

Rising profitability, with operating margins up to 4.5% from 1.4%, and strong cash flow allowed Clancy to unleash a record capital investment programme.

Around £20m has been invested in plant, equipment and technology to effectively build a platform for long-term growth.

This includes a growing spend on increasing Clancy’s zero-carbon fleet and an ‘electric first’ company car policy.

Despite the pandemic, the Harefield-based firm delivered an £11.1m pre-tax profit in the year to March 2021, up from £3.5m previously, and completing a business turnaround from a £2.8m loss four years ago

Turnover slipped back by 14% to £255m due to both the planned exit from loss-making business and the impact of the pandemic.

The firm, which employs 2,200 people, boosted its order book following a strategic focus on water, energy and wider infrastructure markets.

This summer Clancy opened the way for further expansion securing a new contract with Scottish Water providing repair and maintenance to Scotland’s water and waste water network for up to 12 years.

The expanded framework will help to double the size of Clancy’s operations in Scotland.  While a place on Northumbrian Water’s capital works framework supported a growing presence in the north east of England.

Kevin Clancy, chairman at Clancy said:“We are a family-run business and retain an entrepreneurial spirit which has enabled us to be agile and resilient throughout the challenges of the past year.

“This helped us to stay on track to deliver our long-term strategy, with results that reflect our journey over the last three to four years as much as the most recent twelve months.

“Our model of direct employment and investment in people remains a differentiator at a time when the construction industry as a whole faces significant challenges over the availability of experienced resource.”

Trio shortlisted for £370m HS2 Birmingham Interchange station

HS2 has shortlisted three bidders for the £370m contract to build a major Interchange Station in Solihull.

The contract, which will be awarded next year, is set to support 1,000 jobs, creating a major economic boost for people and businesses in the Midlands.

Interchange Station bidders

  • Laing O’Rourke Construction
  • Skanska Construction UK
  • Unity – a joint venture between Sir Robert McAlpine and VolkerFitzpatrick, supported by consultant WSP

HS2’s Stations Director Matthew Botelle said: “This is a major milestone in the delivery of our HS2 stations. We’re looking forward to working with the winning bidder on our award-winning designs, to build a world class, eco-friendly station that will play a major role in helping us deliver Britain’s new low-carbon railway.”

HS2 has worked with multi-disciplinary design team Arup to design the station to be net-zero in operation.

Also, it is the first railway station globally to achieve the BREEAM ‘Outstanding’ certification at the design stage putting it in the top 1% of buildings in the UK for eco-friendly credentials.

The design maximises natural daylight and ventilation, with the station roof capturing and reusing rainwater.

Energy-efficient technology will also be incorporated, such as air source heat pumps and LED lighting.

The winning bidder of the contract will develop the detailed design of the station before construction begins and the station takes shape over the next few years.

Enabling work for the 150 hectares site on a triangle of land formed by the M42, A45 and A452 has involved construction of modular bridges over the M42 and A446, and remodelling of the road network in the area.

Wider growth plans around the site, being led by the Urban Growth Company, will support 30,000 jobs, up to 3,000 new homes and 70,000m2 of commercial space.