Reading the newspapers recently, one could be forgiven for becoming slightly confused about the current state of the Scottish construction industry.Following a recent run of doom and despondency, a fresh round of recent statistics seemed to suggest that the industry’s fortunes were turning the corner. Levels of output were recovering and, if official statistics were to be believed, having lost 32,000 jobs in the year to March, the number employed in the industry was starting to go back up again.
Sadly, as we all know, it is always dangerous to take figures like these at face value. First, the modest recovery in the first half of 2010 comes from a very low base. Second, last winter was a particularly harsh one, forcing many companies to down tools for weeks and months. It’s natural therefore that, come the spring thaw, there should be a rush of activity to make up for lost time. Third, the industry has been experiencing some residual benefit from swollen public sector investment as a consequence of funding accelerated from future years into the 2009-10 budget. Unfortunately, with swingeing cuts on the immediate horizon, levels of public investment are about to take a nosedive.
In reality, the renewed optimism in the industry’s prospects implied by these improving figures belies the real state of the industry. A perhaps more reliable measure of the immediate outlook for the industry is the current state of confidence amongst construction firms. In this context, the latest Scottish Construction Monitor, a quarterly survey of the 700+ individual companies that make up the membership of the Scottish Building Federation, suggests that, since the start of 2010, confidence has taken a significant turn for the worse.
Publication of the results of this survey has provided the Federation with a powerful platform to make the case that more must be done to support the construction sector – and to remind everyone that, contributing 10% of Scotland’s GDP and employing 8-10% of the country’s workforce, it is an industry that needs to be safeguarded and supported.
Alex Bruce manages a variety of PR and public affairs accounts at Indigo. He has previously worked as a senior political policy adviser in the European Parliament in Brussels and subsequently as Head of Government and Community Relations for General Motors UK Ltd.