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SME workload in Q3 shows steady but slow growth

A third of SMEs reported higher workloads after the EU referendum but the sector is still struggling to recruit skilled workers, FMB research has shown.

The State of Trade Survey Q3 2016, carried out by the FMB, is the first UK-wide assessment of the SME construction sector since the UK’s vote to leave the EU.

The survey showed that overall SME workloads grew steadily, with a third of firms reporting higher workloads for Q3.

FMB chief executive Brian Berry said consumer demand has “held up far better than anticipated” following the vote.

He said: “If we all agree that construction is a ‘weather vane’ industry, and demand for home improvement and new build homes an important gauge of consumer confidence, then our results chime with the cautious positivity demonstrated across construction and the wider housing market.”

However, Mr Berry described London SME workloads as “concerning”.

He said the city was typically “one of the strongest markets” for construction SMEs and although current and expected workload (as well as workload enquiries) grew by 17 per cent since the previous quarter, the market was flatlining.

“Our feeling is that the construction skills shortage, which we know is particularly pronounced in London and the South-east, is starting to bite,” he said.

Results also showed that 59 per cent of SME construction firms struggled to hire bricklayers and 55 per cent found it difficult to hire carpenters and joiners, which Mr Berry said could be a potential consequence of the EU referendum result in terms of the impact this could have on a flexible workforce.

“12 per cent of construction workers working in the UK are of non-UK origin, forming a vital part of a labour force that is already stretched” Mr Berry said.

“Given that the skills gap is only expected to grow over the next decade, it’s vital that talented tradespeople continue to come to the UK.”

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