Construction in east ‘may shrink by 4%’

LEADERS from the East of England’s construction sector have called on Government to invest in construction jobs and training as a route out of recession and back to growth.

Despite planned infrastructure projects such as the East Anglia ONE Offshore Windfarm, Kings Lynn B Connection Project and Ipswich Rail Chord, industry bodies and employers have urged for more funds to be committed.

The call comes as Construction Skills Network figures from CITB-ConstructionSkills, the Industry Training Board for the construction industry, indicate construction output in the East of England could shrink by 4% this year if action is not taken to stimulate growth in the region.

The indicative figures update statistics published at the beginning of the year and reflect the effect of increased uncertainty in the euro zone and UK’s return to recession. They suggest a sharper and deeper decline than predicted at the start of the year.

Falls in public funding are one of the factors responsible for the decline in the East of England. The new forecast indicates that output in public housing is likely to fall by 24% and public non housing (including schools and hospitals) by 25% in 2012.

But the picture looks set to improve in the longer term as indicative figures for the next five years for the East of England put annual average construction output growth at 3.9% per annum, which is above the UK average of 2.6 per cent.

The forecast increase comes in infrastructure projects - such as the investment in rail announced by the Government and the New Nuclear Build Programme. This could mean by the end of 2017 there will be an additional 8,400 employed in the construction sector.

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Amanda Sergeant, Sector Strategy Manager for CITB-ConstructionSkills in the East of England said: “The East of England seems likely to buck the trend for the other regions and outperform the UK economic growth rate over the five years to 2017. However the indicative figures suggest that output in the East of England will shrink this year while the eventual growth will be more sluggish than we have seen in the past decade.

“We need to meet the challenges for the good of the economy, our industry and the people who work in it. By working in partnership and presenting a united front, we stand the best chance of returning construction to a position of strength. ”

Responding to the challenge that the industry faces, a coalition of construction leaders has been formed, launching a campaign called Construction4Growth, which will address growing economic concerns in the region and lobby government to increase investment and put construction at the heart of recovery.

The coalition says that with �200bn infrastructure investment already pledged, the Government urgently needs to get these projects moving to secure the long term growth potential they offer. By diverting other funds, it can also create hundreds of thousands of construction jobs in the short term through new housing, repair and maintenance projects to get Britain working now, it argues.

It also calls for investmetn in improving skills and to prepare the workforce for the green agenda.

Nigel Dyer Chairman of the East of England Skills for Growth Forum, said: “The construction sector underpins growth, whether it’s new infrastructure, housing, office space or public buildings. Within the areas covered by the East of England Local Enterprise Partnership, we collectively need to make sure we’re supporting the construction industry to make the most of the planned projects to the benefit of local people and businesses.

“The Construction4Growth campaign is important to every sector of our industry and every organisation from SMEs to major contractors. We can’t avoid the downturn but working together we can try to minimise its impact on our industry and our employees and develop the skilled workforce we will need when the upturn comes.”