The construction industry’s rebound from the pandemic cooled last month as material shortages, truck driver accessibility issues and subcontractor availability were blamed for the fall from June’s 24-year record.
The latest PMI data compiled by IHS Markit and CIPS said total activity for July was 58.7, down from 66.3 the previous month.
This means the month had the slowest overall increase in production since February, although the number was still well above the 50 mark with no change.
The survey found that 66% reported longer waiting times for material and goods deliveries with port jams, missing truck drivers and Brexit trade disputes.
Jan Crosby, Head of Building and Infrastructure at KPMG, said: “The shortage of truck drivers means that inventories arriving here in the UK are often further delayed due to logistical setbacks and on-site construction slows down when it does the workers have to isolate themselves. This creates a catch-22 that could affect how well the sector recovers and grows over the coming months. “
And Max Jones, a director on Lloyds Bank’s infrastructure and construction team, said the problems highlight the purchasing power of larger companies compared to their smaller competitors.
He said: “Contractors who are better able to deal with bottlenecks are those who have the balance sheets to plan ahead and buy up supplies to support the pipelines below. This is in contrast to the small players who focus on the task at hand and tend not to go deep enough to buy up stocks ahead of time. “
The declining availability of subcontractors was the second highest since the survey began in April 1997 and was only surpassed in April last year when the country was hit by the first national lockdown.
And 81% said costs increased during the month as supply constraints drove prices north, while trying to reach subcontractors – who themselves reported labor shortages – also drove costs up.
Residential construction performed best with a score of 60.3, followed by a sustained recovery in commercial labor with a score of 59.2.
In both cases, however, the expansion was the weakest since February, with an increase in customer demand after the lockdown, along with material and labor shortages, also likely to be responsible for the slowdown. With a score of 55, civil engineering growth was its lowest in five months.
Tim Moore, commercial director at IHS Markit, admitted, “It was not surprising that UK construction companies were unable to maintain production growth at the 24-year high seen in June, especially given widespread supply bottlenecks and limited capacity to take on additional contracts.”
Others were more pessimistic about Duncan Brock, group director at CIPS, saying the numbers exposed the construction’s known problems of finding staff – which had been exposed when supplies were becoming scarce.
He added: “With traffic disruptions, bottlenecks in essential goods and Brexit delays, the first spurt of activity this year is quickly stalling. It’s hard to predict when all of these challenges are likely to subside. “