Output growth in construction has eased the recovery for the third month running according to the latest construction purchasing managers index (PMI). The September survey also revealed shortages of subcontractor, staff and materials, which are all causing rapid cost inflation.
September data revealed another growth slowdown in the construction sector, with output volumes rising to the smallest extent for eight months. This partly reflected softer demand conditions than the peak seen earlier in the summer. Survey respondents also cited disruptions on site from unavailable transport, a severe lack of materials and continued staff shortages.
Some firms noted that the unpredictable pricing environment had slowed clients’ decision-making on new orders and led to delays with contract awards.
At 52.6 in September, down from 55.2 in August, the headline seasonally adjusted IHS Markit/CIPS UK Construction PMI® Total Activity Index dropped further below the 24-year high seen in June (66.3). The latest reading signalled only a moderate expansion of total construction output and the weakest speed of recovery for eight months.
Tim Moore, Director at IHS Markit, which compiles the survey said: “The volatile price and supply environment has started to hinder new business intakes as construction companies revised cost projections and some clients delayed decisions on contract awards. As a result, the latest survey data pointed to the worst month for order books since January’s lockdown.
“Shortages of building materials and a lack of transport capacity led to another rapid increase in purchase prices during September. There was also a considerable decline in the availability of sub-contractors, with survey respondents citing shortages of bricklayers, drivers, groundworkers, joiners, plumbers and many other skilled trades. Measured overall, prices charged by sub-contractors increased at the fastest rate since the survey began in April 1997.”
Duncan Brock, Group Director at the Chartered Institute of Procurement & Supply, said: “The increases in shortages also affected project agreements with a sharp fall in new order growth, where customers hesitated to commit, uncertain about prices and the timing of completion. Over 60% of supply chain managers said their deliveries were taking longer and 78% were paying more for their goods as inflation remained stubbornly high.
“Good news for job seekers though as the demand for skilled labour remained unabated, and companies were left wanting more. Sub-contractors were unable to fill the widening gap of need as their availability shrank and prices charged accelerated to record levels. Unless stronger supply chain performance is nailed down along with headcount, we are heading towards a stagnant autumn because the sector is certainly not on an even footing at the moment.”
Meanwhile, the latest survey illustrated that construction firms remained highly upbeat about the business outlook. Just over half (51%) forecast rising output, while only 8% anticipate a decline. However, the degree of confidence was weaker than August amid some concerns that the supply chain crisis will hinder growth.