Construction output grew 8.2% in May

Construction output grew by 8.2% in May compared to April, as it recovered slightly from a huge drop caused by the coronavirus lockdown.

That’s according to the latest official figures from the Office for National Statistics, which calculated that the value of all work in the sector in May was £8.25bn.

The increase came after a severe decline in output in April, which saw many businesses shut down operations in the face of the covid-19 pandemic. Output in April dropped by 40.2% compared to March and was 44.3% down on a year ago.

Despite the fact that output improved in May month on month, it was still 39.7% lower than the same month last year, according to the ONS figures.

Seasonally adjusted growth rates revealed that while public housing output was 42.1% up in May 2020 compared to April 2020, and private housing had risen by 21.4%, they were still down 55.6% and 55.4% respectively year on year in May 2020.

Infrastructure was 12.7% up in May compared to April, but 14.4% down year on year. Private commercial work staged a small recovery month on month in May compared to April, win an increase of 4.2% but the year-on-year decline in May was still 38.2%. And while the repair and maintenance sector improved output by 2.7% in May 2020 compared to April 2020, it was 42% down year on year in May.

Fraser Johns, finance director at Beard: “After April’s huge 40% drop in output, it’s encouraging to see May’s figures beginning to point towards a recovery in construction work. It has been one of the sectors worst-affected by covid-19, and for the construction industry itself and also for the health of the wider economy, it is vital that this recovery continues to gather pace.

“Under normal circumstances, a month-on-month increase of 8% would be something to shout about, but with output still nearly two-fifths lower than in February, it will clearly be a long haul to get back to similar volumes as before the ‘lockdown’. Many firms will continue to suffer in the meantime, but the industry is adapting to new working procedures and finding ways to increase efficiency.

“Times are likely to remain hard for some time to come, but we will get through this.”

DateAll workPeriod on period growthsPeriod on same period one year ago growths
£ million%%

Above: Construction output all work summary (chained volume measure, seasonally adjusted, 2016 prices) Source: Office for National Statistics

Clive Docwra, managing director of construction consulting and design agency McBains, added: “After two successive months of record falls in output, the construction sector was bracing itself for more bad news – and today’s figures reflect just how much of a historic downturn the industry is experiencing.

“In particular, record decreases of more than 40% in new housing work and almost 30% in commercial work over the three months to May highlight how essential it is that the government does all it can to get construction moving again.  

“Although May saw a rebound as construction started to return to work, this is all relative, with output 38.8% lower compared with February before the pandemic hit.  It will take several months for the sector to truly recover.”

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