Shortages in skills and materials are hitting the UK’s housebuilding revival, which continued towards the end of 2013 with the private sector leading the way.

At the same time, UK infrastructure activity is picking up, according to the latest RICS (Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors) Construction Market Survey.

It suggested that despite the fact that the recovery in the construction industry was only just getting underway, skills shortages were already being identified as a constraint on activity.

It found that 36% of respondents claimed that labour shortages were restricting building. Skills shortages have been increasing across all of the trades but bricklayers remained particularly scarce as a result of strong demand from the housing sector.

It said a higher percentage of respondents were now reporting problems sourcing relevant skills than at any time since mid-2006.

During the final three months of the year, almost 40% of respondents also claimed that a scarcity of materials was limiting activity, with surveyors noting that bricks and concrete blocks, in particular, were in short supply.

Infrastructure

RICS said that significantly, infrastructure construction – a core priority of the UK government’s economic plan – was showing signs of picking up speed with the pace of growth increasing at its fastest rate in almost seven years, with a net balance of 24%.

The improving picture in the construction sector was said to be visible at a regional level too, with workloads rising for the second consecutive quarter in all parts of the country. The stronger regional picture was evident in most segments of the construction industry, said RICS.

It said that expectations for future construction activity were extremely upbeat, with 74% more chartered surveyors expecting workloads to increase rather than decrease during 2014. Furthermore, it found that predictions for employment levels and company profits were also very positive, suggesting that the construction sector might at long last be beginning to prosper.

Alan Muse, RICS director of built environment, said, “With the economy having turned a corner in recent months, it would seem that the construction industry has followed suit and activity is up right across the country.”

He added, “More homes are being built, infrastructure is being upgraded and each part of the UK is benefiting from this more positive picture.

“However, with recent estimates stating that over 230,000 new homes need to be built just to keep up with population growth, further initiatives from the government will be necessary to get close to this target.”

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