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Wales looks to the future

Traditional rivalries between England and Wales were rekindled at the weekend, with less – or more – to be said about the result, depending on which side of the border you stand.

England may have come away with the spoils in the Six Nations, but when it comes to construction growth, it’s Wales in line for a long-term victory.

Analysis of data from the CITB’s Construction Skills Network report shows Wales will be the UK’s fastest-growing construction market over the next four years, while industry employment in the region will grow by 14.4 per cent over the same period.

These figures far outstrip England and indeed the rest of the UK. Average growth in Welsh construction activity will be more than double that in London between 2017 and 2021.

But is that all good news?

According to reports from the Civil Engineering Contractors Association, many Welsh contractors say that, while the CITB’s report points to a positive long-term trend, it isn’t reflective of what’s happening on the ground right now.

For civils firms in particular, most work is coming from across the border, with contractors looking across the River Dee to the North-west or the River Severn to the South-west to win work.

A combination of cuts to public funding and a slowdown in what CECA describes as “bread-and-butter” infrastructure work has been the primary cause, and while building firms are finding things somewhat easier – no doubt helped by long-running deals like the South-east Wales Schools and Public Buildings framework – the market is still tough.

But short-term hardship is due to turn into a long-term gain – and trade bodies, contractors and the government have already recognised the need to plan for the future.

It’s refreshing to see trade bodies and the government taking action on skills to prepare for shortages before they hit – the Welsh Government last week recognised construction as one its priority areas for apprenticeship investment, and has upped its overall apprenticeship funding to £111.5m from £96m.

With work volumes not set to balloon in Wales until at least 2018-19 – and the timescales for major works at the multi-billion-pound Wylfa Newydd new nuclear project and Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon still somewhat uncertain – firms in Wales are using today’s market to prepare for the future.

All this means that, when contractors do come back across the border, there will be skills and work waiting for them.

Also in the news

The Mayor of London has mapped out a pipeline of large-scale projects along the Thames Estuary, including a new film studio and an industrial research laboratory.

Looking further north, Construction News reveals that three firms have been shortlisted to build a £40m school and leisure hub outside Newcastle-upon-Tyne.

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