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The Brick, Block, and the Pound: A Macro-Economic Construction Forecast for 2024

by Peter Chesters

On day one of UK Construction Week London 2024, broadcaster and UKCW favourite George Clarke chaired ‘Bricks, Politics and the Pound – Navigating the 2024 Rollercoaster Ride in UK Construction’, a discussion between Noble Francis, Economics Director of the Construction Products Association and Aurelie Delannoy, Director of Economic Affairs at the Mineral Products Association.

Noble Francis’ presentation first delved into wider economic factors before focusing in on the construction industry’s performance thus far in 2024 and what to expect for the rest of the year.

Unfortunately, the picture Noble painted of 2024 wasn’t a pretty one. There is expected to be a 2.2% drop in total construction work this year. The key sectors of private housebuilding and industrial are forecast to be down 5% and 7.4%, respectively.

The industry has suffered through a very poor Q1 when compared to Q1 2023, according to Noble’s research.

In terms of RMI work, this sector is also expected to witness large drops in activity in the private housing sector in 2024. This sector saw record high levels of work in 2021, but has seen drops due to homeowner caution since the cost of living and energy price crises. Work in private housing RMI is expected to drop by 4.0% this year.

After declaring these statistics, Noble detailed key risks for the industry that he sees on the horizon in 2024:

  • General Election – Always a factor to be considered and wary of, however Noble did state that a General Election tends not to have a huge impact on construction.
  • Materials inflation – Overall inflation is falling mainly due to sharp declines in steel and timber costs, but overall prices remain high.
  • Construction insolvencies – January 2024 saw the highest level of construction insolvencies since the financial crisis and are likely to rise further by the end of H1 2024.
  • Skills shortages – We are rapidly losing older workers in the construction industry who aren’t being replaced at anywhere near a fast enough rate. Read more about the construction industry’s dire skills shortage issue here 

The skills shortage issue was linked to Noble’s final poignant message: we are expecting a recovery for the industry next year, but who are we expecting to be able to do all of this work?

At this point, the stage was handed to Aurelie who focused on the sales of key construction materials. These sales are a bellwether for how the overall industry can be expected to be performing: If sales of the materials that we build with are low, then we know that actual work occurring by necessity must also be low. 

Aurelie’s summation of industry activity was similarly severe to Noble’s. Materials purchases are all down due to inflation and the tough economy.

Aurelie’s figures also highlighted the concern emanating from the lack of activity in private housebuilding. Several eye-opening figures that highlighted the concern were:

  • Mortar sales have fallen 20% in the past year.
  • Ready mixed concrete sales levels haven’t been at this low of a level since the 1960s. This is due to the poor performance of the housebuilding industry. Housebuilding accounts for 1/3 of ready mixed concrete demand.
  • Asphalt sales are at a decade low. Aurelie did state that the infrastructure industry has been more resilient than others, however asphalt (of course, a major factor in road works) being so low points to a patchy delivery of work in this sector.

Aurelie presented Barbour ABI data to compare new contract awards data in both residential units and across the wider industry to the sales of ready-mixed concrete, primary aggregates and mortar. All showed a clear correlation between the drop in contract awards and the drop in purchases of these products. A slight uptick in recent contract awards does hopefully show some recovery to come.

Aurelie finished with an attempted injection of optimism into the proceedings: yes, there will be persistent weakness until 2025. However, the next 15 years should see significant demand for construction materials in order to hit government targets for housing, infrastructure, hospitals and transition to Net Zero.

Keep up to date with the latest construction industry contract awards, planning approvals and planning applications data in Barbour ABI’s monthly Snap Analysis report.

About the author

Picture of Peter Chesters

Peter Chesters

Head of Demand Generation at Barbour ABI

Peter has worked for Barbour ABI since March 2019. Beginning in the Barbour Product Search editorial team, he then moved into the Barbour ABI Marketing team in late 2019, mainly focusing on writing and content creation. In 2021 Peter began to head up the Barbour Product Search editorial team.

As Head of Demand Generation, Peter now works across Barbour ABI, Barbour Product Search and AMA Research, focusing on new business marketing strategy and content creation across the Barbour ABI Group.

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