ACTIVITY in the Scotland construction sector continued to fall at the end of last year as financial constraints and a challenging economic environment continued to impact the industry.
A net balance of -7% of Scottish respondents said that workloads fell, compared to +10% in Q3. In the UK as a whole, workloads were reported to be flat.
This trend of a slowdown in activity corresponds with a negative outlook from Scottish surveyors too with -12% of respondents expecting that workloads will fall over the next 12 months, down from -1% in Q3, and +25% in Q2.
Looking at the current workloads, all sub-sectors saw a slowdown in activity, with both public and private housing experiencing the steepest slowdowns. In Q4, -2% of respondents reported a fall in public housing, down from +27% in Q3, and -8% of respondents reported a fall in private housing, down from +15% in Q3.
Although there is still a skills shortage across the industry in Scotland, it was slightly less pronounced than in previously quarters. In Q4, 58% of surveyors reported a shortage of quantity surveyors, down from 60% in Q3. Shortages in construction professionals fell from 62% in Q3 to 54% in Q4 and shortages of bricklayers fell from 59% to 55% between Q3 and Q4.
With continued labour and material cost pressures, respondents in Scotland remain relatively downbeat about the outlook for profit margins. Q4 was the sixth quarter in succession that there was a negative net balance regarding the 12-month outlook for profitability, with -40% expecting profit margins to decline, down from -26% in Q3. The outlook for employment is more resilient though with respondents pointing to a flat picture over the year ahead (a net balance of –1%).
Zander Muego, of Thomas & Adamson in Edinburgh said: “There is a lack of specialist subcontractor organisations with the capacity to deliver large volume projects.”
Andrew Park of Robertson Partnership Homes in Stirling added: “There is insufficient government funding for social and affordable housing to keep pace with inflation.”
Gary Campbell from Cruden in Glasgow commented: “Inflationary increases in labour, plant and, materials are becoming unsustainable for clients.”