According to the Office for National Statistics, the sector is now officially in recession.
Construction output fell by 0.8% in the third quarter, following a 0.5% fall in the second. Even if we look ahead with optimism, the best we can hope for is a protracted period of minimal growth in workload.
The government, to its credit, is showing signs of recognising construction’s vital role. The decision to allow departments to bring forward their 2010-11 budget allocations shows that Whitehall is serious about maintaining the workload momentum that maintains industry jobs, skills and capacity.
But even at the best of times, the wheels of public sector projects turn slowly. And most of the schools, hospitals and health centres we’re promised will still be delivered under BSF, PFI and LIFT – which depend on banks having the confidence to invest private finance at affordable rates and on accelerated timescales. Hardly a done deal, then.
But perhaps the solution lies elsewhere. The carbon crunch is the second seismic shock that’s about to hit all Western economies. In the not-too-distant future, as legislation and fiscal penalties make carbon a luxury item, every personal and professional decision we make will have a carbon dimension.
The carbon crunch also represents an opportunity to refocus our economy. There are short-term wins: the UK Green Building Council estimates a major business opportunity worth between £3.5 and £6.5bn a year, as well as thousands of jobs, if we upgrade the insulation and fuel efficiency on existing housing stock. Longer term, there are opportunities for new industries in clean energy and green transport.
Calls for a Green New Deal have been growing recently, with the UN Environment Programme recently backing the idea. If the government can deliver, then maybe we will one day look back on the credit crunch as the beginning of the future.
Elaine Knutt, Editor