Activity fell by a record amount in three months to May

Construction output recovered from historic lows in May but is still significantly below pre-covid levels, according to the latest data from the Office for National Statistics.

Output increased by 8.2% in May compared with April, rising to £8.3bn, though it remains nearly 39% lower than in February before the pandemic struck and the country was put into lockdown.

construction site

Source: Shutterstock

Sites have begun returning to work but output is way down on pre-covid levels

Construction output fell by a record 29.8% in the three months to May, compared with the previous three-month period. This was driven by record falls of 30.3% in new work and 28.9% in repair and maintenance.

Private new housing and private commercial have fallen by 42.5% and 29.5% respectively during the period.

Construction’s increase in May was driven by new housing and repair and maintenance activity with the ONS suggesting more DIY took place during the weeks of lockdown.

Month-on-month both public and private housing increased by record amounts, with activity improving by 42.1% and 21.4% respectively.

But Clive Docwra, managing director of McBains, said the industry had a mountain to climb in the coming months.

He said: “Record decreases of more than 40% in new housing work and almost 30% in commercial work over the three months to May highlight how essential it is that the government does all it can to get construction moving again. It will take several months for the sector to truly recover.”

Overall GDP in May grew by 1.8% but the number has fallen 24.5% compared with February and in the three months to May has slumped by 19.1%.

May 2020 compared with February 2020

Type of workFall in output in May 2020 compared with February 2020 (%)
Total all work -38.8
Total all new work -37.8
Total repair and maintenance -40.7
New housing  
Public -56.4
Private -52.9
Other new work  
Infrastructure -11.4
Excl infrastructure  
Public -27.2
Private industrial -42.8
Private commercial -39.2
Repair and maintenance  
Public housing -52.6
Private housing -53.8
Non-housing repair and maintenance -27.9

Source: Office for National Statistics