Currie & Brown’s UK Construction Market Outlook October 2023, also reveals a noticeable ‘softening’ in the market as cost pressures take their toll, leading to significant project delays. It shows that clients re increasingly concerned about a shrinking pool of contractors of ‘the appropriate quality’ to deliver projects, and are becoming more focused on measuring the technical competence of the firms they appointed.
Richard Hill, director at consultancy Currie & Brown, told a roundtable session of BESA members that new orders fell by more than 7% in the second quarter of this year, and that –with the general economy remaining flat until the middle of next year, and inflation only falling slowly – no recovery was expected until 2025.
He said: “The health of the construction industry is also heavily dependent on the delivery of the national infrastructure programme. We are at the mercy of government policy changes, so delays and cancellations in that space will constrain outputs until at least the second half of next year.” However, he noted, there might be ‘a bounce’ after next year’s General Election that could help to speed up a recovery in 2025. He said: “All this means there is a general default to two-stage design and build to reduce risk. Clients are also worried about financial stability in their supply chains, and the amount of hidden costs coming through.”
He added that the sector’s shortage of capacity and the hardening approach of the insurance market were adding to risk. Simultaneously, the introduction of the Building Safety Act, and the need to achieve Net Zero were ‘front of mind’ for contractors and clients.
The BESA members pointed out that many clients were failing to get their buildings registered under the Building Safety Act, ‘which is their first duty’. To do that they must be working with competent organisations, and there is confusion around the role of the principal contractor – often not appointed until after the building is registered.
“Practitioners have a heightened responsibility level around building safety, which will impact on the level of engagement generally and the timescale of projects,” said Richard Hill. “This might eventually lead to new disciplines being created to meet the needs of the Act, but initially the focus will be on additional responsibilities for existing practitioners.”
The new planning process detailed under the Act places much more emphasis on having proper design certainty at Gateway 2 before work can start on site, and is reported to be putting pressure on consultants’ skillsets to get these projects across the line.
“Competence is a major thread in the Act,” explained Richard Hill. “It will hit the industry hard and fast, but this might stall clients from starting projects because the timescales are very short, and they are going to have to appoint the right people before being able to get started – so there could be a major market shift to defer new-build projects.”
The sector’s serious skills shortages also made delivery of Net Zero ‘more challenging’, he added. He said: “We need another 250,000 construction workers by 2027. Where are they going to come from?”