Workloads have slowed across all sectors of the construction industry as Brexit delays investment, according to the Q2 2017 UK RICS Construction and Infrastructure Market Survey. Anecdotal evidence from respondents suggests that uncertainty regarding Brexit is weighing on investment decisions, alongside the political turmoil generated from last month’s general election.

A modest slowing

After a positive picture in the Q1 survey with the growth in workloads accelerating at its strongest pace since the referendum, there has been a modest slowing in Q2 2017 with private commercial and industrial sectors seeing the most significant easing in activity.

That said, a net balance of 29% of contributors continue to report a rise in private housing activity.

Although growth in total workloads has slowed in the sector, it is still rising, with 21% more respondents reporting an increase (down from +27% recorded in the previous quarter). Expectations for the next 12 months also remain relatively positive, although respondents appear noticeably less optimistic on their profit margins.

Infrastructure in focus

Infrastructure workloads remain broadly unchanged, with roads, rail and energy expected to see the strongest growth in output over the coming 12 months. Two areas of the UK that are seeing activity continue to rise are the Midlands and East Anglia, where activity has been boosted thanks to a surge in infrastructure.

Respondents in all other parts of the UK report a fall in workloads.

Looking back at the national picture, in the two sectors with the most significant easing, 21% more respondents saw their workloads in the private commercial rise rather than fall in Q2, down from 31% in the prior quarter. Private industrial activity also eased to 15% from 22% previously.

The more uncertain outlook for the economy as a whole has led to a less optimistic outlook for the sector over the year ahead; even so, 44% more contributors expect activity to rise rather than fall. This is down from 53% the previous quarter. Likewise, only 29% more contributors now expect to see employment rise rather than a fall, compared with an average of 32% over the four previous quarters.

Financial constraints

Financial constraints are reported to be by far the most significant impediment to building activity, and with a net balance of 79% (from 70% in Q1) is the highest reading in four years. Economic uncertainty driven largely by Brexit and the subsequent election result was identified as the primary cause of the constraint. Difficulties with access to bank finance and credit, along with cash flow and liquidity challenges, were the second and third most frequently cited reasons, respectively.

Despite the slowdown in growth, skills shortages persist with 55% of contributors reporting them as a constraint on growth. After having eased in 2016, the intensification of labour shortages appears to be biting once more. The lack of quantity surveyors and bricklayers appears to be particularly acute, but the shortfall extends to other construction professionals as well.

Tender price expectations over the next twelve months remain unchanged in Q2, with respondents envisaging greater price pressures. The expected increase in tender prices may signal rising costs and shrinking profit margins for businesses. Indeed, expectations on profit margins have eased from a net balance of 18% to 8% in the latest results.

Jeffrey Matsu, RICS Senior Economist said “Economic and political uncertainty appear to be weighing on sentiment, but all things considered, current conditions and year-ahead workload expectations are holding up rather well relative to the longer-term trend.

“Given the ongoing nature of Brexit negotiations, it remains to be seen what impact this will have on financial conditions or the availability of skilled labour to the industry.”

The results are in and Britain once again finds itself with a hung parliament. As uncertainty spreads like wildfire as to what this will mean, speculation runs rife regarding how it will affect the construction sector.

Regardless of whether we end up with a coalition government led by Theresa May or a minority government fronted by Jeremy Corbyn, there are bigger fish to fry in the long run! Buildingspecifier investigates:


Brexit still looms over us as an industry, and whatever shape the new government takes, they will still need to ensure it happens as smoothly as possible. We need to continue to harness the potential for future infrastructure investment and economic growth, championing ourselves as bastions of innovation and construction prowess.

Although the snap General Election has added more uncertainty and speculation into British economy as a whole, as seen with fluctuations in the value of the pound, 2017 has been a tumultuous year politically. As a country and as an industry we have shown resilience to these challenges and risen to meet them. Let’s keep up the good work!

The election campaigns of all parties have focussed heavily on upcoming Brexit negotiations, and for the construction sector in particular a major priority has been to make sure we still have access to the wealth of skilled labour afforded to us by close ties with Europe.

From an economic perspective, market surveys across both residential and commercial sectors now reveal an overall acceptance of Brexit and people are now looking beyond and seeing the bigger picture. However, there is still ongoing concern about deferral of major investment and recruitment plans, which are understandable but likely to subside in coming weeks and months following on from the distraction of a dramatic election.


An inescapable truth is that there needs to be a drastic narrowing of the construction skills gap as soon as possible, and today’s result doesn’t negate this harsh fact. The new administration will undoubtedly continue to reinforce the importance of the construction industry to the country’s physical and economic wellbeing, and will need to continue implementing modern technologies such as offsite and modular into our projects nationwide, contributing to further growth of the UK economy by championing us an a lucrative opportunity for investors.

In summary

There is going to be a lot of confusion and insecurity following today’s result; it is vitally important that as an industry we do not lose sight of what we need to achieve as an industry. Today’s result doesn’t change this, it merely adds another dynamic that we will need to evolve and change in order to adapt to. We mustn’t allow procrastination, frustration or insecurity to unravel all of the good things we have achieved over the past few years. We must keep calm and carry on!

The next Government must build new communities across the country and keep secure the UK’s position as the global leader in architecture and design innovation says the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) in its General Election manifesto published today (Thursday 25 May).

RIBA’s ‘Building a Global Britain’ manifesto says the UK must:

  • Grow as a global trading nation –ensuring the existing mutual professional recognition agreement with the EU is maintained as part of the Brexit negotiations and that new mutual recognition agreements are developed with other key trading nations including the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
  • Put local people at the heart of the planning system – delivering powers on housing and planning to regional and Metro Mayors so cities and regions can deliver more.
  • Deliver many more good quality homes that meet the needs of society – perusing development of new high-quality, affordable homes that alleviate the housing crisis and unstick some of the UK’s productivity problems.
  • Build schools that are better spaces for learning –ensuring better design of public buildings like schools, museums and hospitals to inspire communities and make the best use of scarce public money.
  • Show greater leadership in resilient infrastructure – Supporting innovation in flood defences to catalyse the UK’s export potential in new technologies.

RIBA President Jane Duncan said “People across the country will be keen to see how political parties respond to the challenges and opportunities of these changing times. Our political leaders recognise the need to improve quality of life across the country; they can start by supporting a better built environment. The RIBA’s manifesto outlines how the next UK Government can ensure that our communities have great high quality, sustainable places in which to live, work and play.
“The UK has a thriving architecture sector delivering inspiring buildings and places across our great nation and around the world. Our multibillion pound contribution to the UK economy and to the country’s reputation abroad is highly prized, and our universities train and equip the architects of the future.

“Whomever forms the next UK Government must recognise the strength and importance of our global cultural links and influence, and continue to support us by safeguarding our ability to attract the brightest and best talent from around the world, as well as ensuring post Brexit that architects practising in the UK are in an environment where they can thrive.”

The construction sectors are currently abuzz with discussion about the potential effects a General Election will have on our industry. With some seeing it as an opportunity to refocus strategy and others concerned the fallout will impact heavily on future investment, Theresa May’s announcement has certainly divided opinion.

Carolyn Fairbairn, Director-General at the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) said “With a snap General Election now called, businesses will be looking to each political party to set out their plans to support economic stability and prosperity over the next Parliament in a way that is fair and sustainable for communities across the UK. Distraction from the urgent priorities of seeking the best EU deal and improving UK productivity must be kept to a minimum.

“It is essential to get the UK’s foundations right, from building a skills base for the next generation, to investing in infrastructure, energy and delivering a pro-enterprise tax environment.
“Whoever forms the next Government, they should seek to build a partnership between business and government that is the best in the world, based on trust and shared interest.”

Lewis Johnston, RICS Parliamentary Affairs Manager said “Since the EU referendum last summer, our market surveys across the residential, commercial and construction sectors show we have largely moved on from initial negative reactions but uncertainty continues to cloud the outlook and weigh on market sentiment. Today’s decision does very little to change that prognosis in the near term, and if anything we are likely to see continuing deferral of major investment and hiring plans.

“Whilst Theresa May’s stated intention this morning was to provide greater clarity and stability by calling a general election, in the immediate term the move inevitably puts a question mark over policy and creates further uncertainty across the built environment. It is now the responsibility of all parties to set out clear policy proposals across land, property, construction and infrastructure to ensure the UK can deliver the homes, infrastructure, factories, offices and major building projects it needs to thrive.”