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Welsh Construction Activity Rising Faster than UK Despite Significant Skills Shortages

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The Welsh construction sector finished 2019 as it started it, with workloads rising and activity growing at a faster rate than in the UK as a whole, according to figures from the Q4 2019 RICS (Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors) Construction & Infrastructure Market Survey.

A net balance of +16 percent of respondents to the survey in Wales reported that workloads rose in the final quarter of last year, compared to a net balance of +12 percent of UK respondents.

Publicly funded construction activity was the key driver of growth in Wales, with surveyors pointing to increased activity in public housing and other public works. Infrastructure workloads were also reported to be rising at a relatively strong rate.

Meanwhile, surveyors reported a reduced level of private sector house building in Q4. This is the first time the net balance has been below zero since 2013; albeit marginally so at -7 percent. Private sector industrial workloads were also said to have fallen.

Encouragingly, Welsh surveyors are relatively positive about the next 12 months, with a net balance of 42 percent expecting workloads to be higher in a year’s time. This is the most confident respondents have been about workloads since Q3 2018.

Obstacles to potential further growth according to respondents include access to finance, which was cited as the biggest impediment in Wales (71 percent of respondents), and a shortage of labour (59 percent of respondents). Indeed, anecdotally, surveyors continue to point to a shortage of adequately skilled labour as a major challenge.

Gareth John Davies of Total Quantity Surveying in Llanelli said:

“There is a severe lack of skilled craftspeople within the construction industry. Those apprentices that are coming through do not yet possess the skills that are required, and self-employed craftsperson do not pass on their knowledge and experience.”

Neil Brierley, RICS Construction Spokesman in Wales, and Regional Managing Director at Currie & Brown says:

“2019 was overall a good year for construction activity in Wales, with workloads said to be rising in all four quarters. The General Election result last month also appears to have supported market confidence, with the anticipation of additional fiscal spending to be announced at Spring Budget pushing year-ahead workload expectations higher. That said, the yet-to-be-known relationship with the EU has kept the economic outlook fragile and this could impact on businesses’ intentions to invest.”