Rise in workload and turnover

Almost half of the members of the Building & Engineering Services Association (B&ES) who responded to the latest B&ES state of trade survey experienced an increase in both workload and turnover during the second half of last year.

However, there are indications of a modest slowdown approaching, in that the rate of growth had declined since similar research was carried out among the association’s membership just six months ago. Tender prices, too, appear to have remained largely static, while labour costs continued to rise – as did materials costs, although at a slower rate than previously.

The survey, which covers the period from June to December 2014, revealed a positive ‘net optimism measure’ of +39%, some way behind the +49% recorded for the first six months of 2014, but ahead of the +35% reported for the same period in 2013.

Regionally, the percentage of respondents who felt more optimistic about their future prospects ranged from +28% in London and the South East to +80% in Wales.

Pretty well all sizes of business – and all specialisms – were revealed to have enjoyed a turnover increase, an experience which was also spread fairly evenly across the UK, with the north west of England reporting the greatest improvement. However, order books in the domestic sector remained more or less static.

In terms of employment levels, just over a third claimed to be employing more people than they were six months ago, while over half of respondents reported no change in their direct employment levels.

Predictably, late payment, poor margins, increases in labour and materials costs and skills shortages were cited as the principal factors adversely affecting business growth.

More surprisingly, members’ engagement with building information modelling (BIM) had fallen since the previous survey – with only 26% of respondents handling projects that involved BIM, down from 35% last time.

Commenting on the research findings, B&ES president Andy Sneyd acknowledged that – while far from generating doom and gloom – they painted a slightly less bright picture than might have been expected.

He said: “Certainly, anecdotal evidence provided by my fellow members in recent times has given the impression that the upturn in UK construction is rather more sustained than these figures suggest.”

But he added that conditions were evidently improving – albeit at a slower rate than previously – and there remained every reason to believe that a robust recovery was on its way.

A total of 15% of B&ES member firms took part in the sixth B&ES state of trade survey – slightly down from 17% last time, but ahead of the previous three six-month periods.

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