‘Beast from the East’ provides hammer blow to construction in March

The “unusually bad weather” which was brought by the ‘Beast from the East’ last month led to total construction output falling at the fastest pace since July 2016, according to the latest IHS Markit/CIPS UK construction purchasing managers' index (PMI).

Results show that growth plummeted from a score of 51.4 in February to 47 in March, meaning it is the first time construction activity fell below the 50 no-change marker for six months. A reading above 50 indicates growth. According to Markit, the snow disruption had a “particularly negative” impact on civil engineering projects, which witnessed the sharpest activity fall since 2013.

The snow and ice which fell uncharacteristically in March meant survey respondents said that the bad weather had been a disruption to staff availability and activity on site. 

Despite the poor figures, Tim Moore, associate director at IHS Markit, believes there is room for optimism with a rise in employment figures and the positive stance on business activity expectations in nine months. He expects to see a rebound in construction activity following the tough start to the year which also saw the collapse of Carillion in January.

Commenting on the figures, Moore said: “The construction sector continued to experience subdued business conditions during March, but snow-related disruption was a key factor behind the marked decline in activity on site reported by survey respondents. Total construction output fell at the fastest pace since July 2016, driven by the sharpest reduction in civil engineering activity for five years and a renewed fall in commercial work. House building increased slightly during March, although the rate of expansion was still softer than at any time in 2017.”

Today’s announcement comes after separate figures from the manufacturing industry earlier in the week showed activity weakened in the first quarter to its lowest level in a year. Howard Archer, chief economic advisor at EY’s Item Club, claims today’s figures could still also be connected to the “fall-out from the collapse of Carillion”.

Mark Robinson, Scape Group chief executive also believes today’s PMI shows how the impact of the weather “demonstrates the fragility of the construction sector”.

He said: “While we cannot control mother nature, we should at least be in a position to ensure that there is a solid line of current and future work in place and that contingency plans are available to deal with meteorological events that could become more frequent occurrences in our changing climate. Despite this, there are some positive points to note. A rise in employment figures and a more positive stance on business activity expectations illustrates that confidence in the sector is growing.”

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