Average productivity levels in the UK construction industry have remained consistently below the average, new data has shown.
According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS) on Tuesday, all construction sub-industries have seen little or negative growth in output per hour worked between 1997 and 2020, with productivity in the construction of buildings industry falling most.
The research showed that civil engineering has consistently been the most productive sector within construction, with specialised construction performing the worst.
As the coronavirus pandemic wreaked havoc on the UK economy last year, the ONS said productivity in the construction industry was volatile thanks to lockdowns and restrictions.
Taking the year as a whole, output per hour was 2% higher in 2020 than in 2019, as output fell less than hours worked. Meanwhile, the volume of output in the construction industry is estimated to have risen more slowly than the whole economy since 1997.
Average labour income per hour worked was also lower in construction than the rest of the economy.
The ONS added that most of the spending in the construction section was on services rather than materials.
The proportion of the industry’s total intermediate spending on rubber and plastic products has decreased over time, from 10.6% in 1997 to just 2.9% in 2018. This is the same for material like glass and paint, the research showed.
Over the same period, the share spent on architectural and engineering services has increased, along with computer programming and consultancy-related services.
“The shift in purchases towards services and away from materials might suggest increased efficiency in using materials, or less wastage of raw materials,” the ONS said.
Over the last 14 years, the construction workforce also became older and better educated. In 1997, almost 1.9 million people worked in the construction industry, 700,000 being self-employed.
By 2019 that had risen to 2.3 million with 900,000 self-employed people, maintaining a steady share of UK employment.