The calling of the General Election will have offered very little that will resemble crumbs of comfort for business, least of all the construction sector.
The industry is officially in decline, constrained by the political and economic uncertainty in the UK, as evidenced in the closely-followed IHS Markit/CIPS construction purchasing managers’ index.
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Construction companies are showing an overall lack of confidence and acted to reduce their workforce numbers in October, driven by weak order books and concerns by managers of the near-term business outlook.
Civil engineering was the worst performing area, with business activity falling at the sharpest pace since October 2009. However, house building also decreased at a faster rate last month, the biggest drop in three years and commercial construction fell for the 10th month in a row.
As I read through this latest slew of data about the sector from The Yorkshire Post’s offices in Leeds, I did feel an odd juxtaposition.
The YP’s newsroom looks out on the city centre which is currently home to a vast amount of cranes, working on the likes of the South Bank, Majestic and MEPC developments, among others.
Some of these schemes are due to come on stream in the next few weeks and, particularly in Leeds, there seems to be a new announcement on inward investment into the city every few days.
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Over in Hull, the new Princes Quay bridge has finally opened, a massive boost to the city centre.
And just last month CODE Co-Living unveiled plans for the region’s tallest building in Sheffield.
However, as someone who continually goes to great pains to advise that we should not judge the national mood by what happens in London, the same is true for our cities and a few cranes should not a summer make, to mix my metaphors.
Customers continue to put off making big spending decisions due to the political uncertainty from Brexit, and the lack of work was also driving costs down creating more widespread discounting.
I noted the considered words of Duncan Brock, group director at the Chartered Institute of Procurement & Supply, who said in response to the figures: “Given that the next political hurdle is December’s General Election, all eyes will be on the new administration and clear direction, because at the moment there is little insight into what could possibly pull the sector out of its ditch.”
Brain Berry, chief executive of the Federation of Master Builders, points out that homeowners are holding off undertaking home improvement works due to Brexit uncertainty.
And Brendan Sharkey, head of construction and real estate at MHA MacIntyre Hudson, said government investment and action was the best route to restore confidence.
Accusing Westminster of “political drift”, something he claimed was encapsulated by the delays and uncertainties surrounding the HS2 project. The painfully slow rate of progress on HS2 is of course undesirable and the continual spreading of myths by joyless antediluvians about the project has certainly not been helpful.
I am the first to congratulate and champion the amount of work going into new developments in the region at present – some of which are game-changing schemes for their localities.
We all remember the dark days of the aftermath of the financial crisis when the opening of a sandwich board outside a cafe was the closest we were likely to see to a construction project.
However, with the need for new homes, new railways, new roads and carbon neutral buildings higher than ever, we must see an uptick in confidence and development projects soon.
We cannot lay all of the blame at the door of HS2 intransigence or Brexit uncertainty.
Developers and consumers need to feel confident, not only in our nation’s economic future, but in its ambition to deliver infrastructure and buildings fit for the modern economy.