Demand for groundworks holds up despite reports of wider industry slowdown

Demand for groundworks holds up despite reports of wider industry slowdown

23rd March 2023 | Hudson Contract

If the groundworkers are busy, the rest of the industry should have plenty of work to come.

Demand for groundworks on building sites has declined only slightly over the last year, suggesting a better outlook for the sector than some commentators are predicting, according to the construction industry’s biggest payer of subcontractors.

Hudson Contract reported a decline of 2.2 per cent in the number of self-employed groundworkers paid during February, compared to same month in 2022, in a sample size of 562 specialist civils firms spread across the country. Groundworkers can be seen as a lead indicator of activity levels with tradespeople such as bricklayers, scaffolders, plasterers and roofers following on from their work.

Ian Anfield, managing director of Hudson Contract, said: “If you listened to some of the commentary, you’d think it was the 2008 crisis all over again. Despite all the stories of doom and gloom and a 30, 40 or even 50 per cent fall in housing completions, the number of groundworkers out putting footings in would suggest it is not nearly as bad as that.

“In the areas where the main housebuilders and developers are slowing down private developments, our clients have managed to move into social and affordable housing, build-to-rent schemes, and they are willing to cover wider geographical areas. There is still a lot of building work going on and there is huge demand for housing.

“Adding to the headaches for construction SMEs is the endless string of new taxes and legislation. For the last few months, issues such as the end of the red diesel rebate and the VAT reverse charge have been bigger problems than the availability of work.”

Mr Anfield added: “Some of our clients are using the slowdown to clear out surplus labour and push for improved productivity. There will always be high demand for the most highly skilled which is why we are seeing payment rates hold up for the time being. However, with yet another interest rate rise on the cards, it feels like something has to give.”

Hudson Contract compared the number of groundworkers paid during February 2022 to the same period in 2023. The value of payments made to those groundworkers increased by 3.4 per cent.

Meanwhile, latest pay trends data for all tradespeople showed a 14 per cent month-to-month rise in average weekly earnings to £994 during February, reflecting the rebound from the seasonal slow start to the year during January. The highest earning trades were electricians at £1,203, shopfitters £1,141 and mechanical and engineering at £1,121.

Region February 2023 Average Month on Month % Change Year on Year % Change
North East £764 10.7% 2.1% 
North West £955 10.1% 4.9% 
Yorkshire & Humber £957 12.7% 6.7% 
East Midlands £1,069 26.8% 3.0% 
West Midlands £973 15.3% 3.8% 
Wales £975 8.3% 3.6% 
East of England £1,106 12.4% 11.8% 
London £1,007 9.5% 0.7% 
South East £1,010 15.0% 1.5% 
South West £977 15.9% 4.9% 

To view our interactive pay trends map click here

Hudson Contract is the UK’s largest provider of tax status and employment contract services to the construction industry with annual revenues of £2 billion and a client base of 2,600 construction SMEs.

Our family-owned group delivers the most accurate indication of subcontractor pay trends across the construction industry, publishing the average pay for a spectrum of 17 different trades split across 10 regions in England and Wales. We supply statistics to the Bank of England to keep policymakers updated with real-time insights on demand for skilled labour.

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