UK market intelligence spring 2020: Building a post-COVID future

Kristoffer Hudson

Economist

These are extraordinary, unsettling times. Many of us may one day come to divide our lives into ‘before’, ‘during’ and ‘after’ the COVID-19 pandemic.

With most of the UK in lockdown, the construction industry is facing a once-in-a-generation challenge.

There is one significant bright spot to the current situation. The construction industry went into the coronavirus crisis from a position of relative strength.

UK GDP growth in the three months prior to the virus’s arrival in February 2020 was flat at 0 percent. Construction stood out as the best-performing sector of the economy; construction output during the quarter rose by a robust 1.4 percent compared to the preceding three months.

The first comprehensive snapshot of the fallout, the March edition of the IHS Markit/CIPS UK Construction PMI survey, recorded the sharpest monthly fall in output for 11 years – with business expectations sliding to their lowest level since October 2008.

Brace for impact

The shutdown of construction work in the UK has been extensive but not total. With the government ruling that ‘essential’ work could continue, programmes in the utilities and transport sectors have remained active, with maintenance a top priority.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, has also unveiled – both in the March Budget and subsequently – an array of support measures designed to help British businesses ride out the decline in demand and protect workers’ jobs.

The speed and scale of the Government’s response is unprecedented, with Mr Sunak vowing to do “whatever it takes” to prevent the COVID-19 pandemic doing permanent damage to the UK economy.

Planning to emerge

Just as governments have acted swiftly to curtail social contact and protect health, clients in the built environment sector must respond decisively to ensure business survival.

All businesses in the sector are now operating in circumstances that they have not planned, but which they must now control. In this unprecedented environment, businesses must take action to mitigate the immediate impacts of the complex and fast-changing environment, which is beyond routine business continuity considerations.

Planning must then turn to securing a level of on-going stability in the face of the evolving situation and then finally to emerge, fit to thrive as disruption decreases and a new way of working and future challenges emerge. 

Download the report to see more economic data and insight, and to read about tender conditions in the UK and Europe. 

Further resources

Please visit our COVID-19 response page for all of our resources relating to the impact of COVID-19 on the construction sector.