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Slowdown coming in UK government construction and associated archaeology

Charles Mount has been following construction activity as a proxy variable for commercial archaeology work in Ireland (Mount 2012).  His data show that a slowdown in construction results in a reduction in commercial archaeology, a well known trend around the world. Applying this concept to the UK we can look at the construction industry as a proxy for possible commercial archaeology activitiy. In this case, the The Markit/CIPS Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) is used. The results show that while construction was very strong at the beginning of the year, especially March, the index has been falling in the last couple of months. It is currently flirting with contraction, a reading of under 50, and it is unlikely that commercial archaeology, as a whole sector, will have seen lots of growth in the last few months.

Taking a longer view of the sector shows some clouds on the horizon. The UK government is now providing pipeline views of new construction projects anticipated over the next couple of years. These are big projects, £10 million plus, but these projects indicate a drop in government construction projects over the next few years. Government construction projects make up 40 percent of the construction sector.

Count of Entries Sum of 2011/12 (£m) Sum of 2012/13 (£m) Sum of 2013/14 (£m) Sum of 2014/15 (£m)
Flood 38 £224 m £289 m £273 m £251 m
Health 158 £590 m £1,066 m £983 m £807 m
Housing & Regeneration 47 £1,789 m £1,100 m £1,281 m £1,552 m
Justice 14 £203 m £254 m £280 m £78 m
Transport 68 £3,596 m £3,411 m £3,622 m £4,001 m
Waste 35 £594 m £1,090 m £1,407 m £803 m
Education £2,504 m £1,640 m £486 m
MOD 90 £396 m £732 m £627 m £592 m
Police Authorities 132 £216 m £14 m £15 m £03 m
Home Office 6 £13 m
Nuclear Decommissioning 24 £313 m £275 m £360 m £449 m
Research 10 £13 m £23 m £14 m £11 m
Further Education 1 £17 m £153 m £59 m £01 m
Culture, Media and Sport 4 £1,098 m £467 m £425 m £117 m
FCO Embassies £42 m £64 m £69 m £65 m
Coal Authority 2 £06 m £07 m £08 m £08 m
Grand Total 629 £11,614 m £10,586 m £9,908 m £8,738 m

This could pickup as more projects are proposed and more money is allotted to large government construction projects. However, there needs to be a 25 percent increase in money allotted for proposed projects by 2014/15 to keep the supply constant. It looks as though construction will not see large growth in the next few months and there are head winds for the future. This means that commercial archaeology is probably in a similar setting. Do not expect a large contraction, but there is unlikely to be a large pickup either.

As should always be noted, a large catastrophic event make all projects redundant.

Mount, C. 2012. Indicators suggest that archaeological activity in Ireland continued to decline in the third quarter of 2012. The Charles Mount Blog, 4 October 2012. http://charles-mount.ie/wp/?p=960

UK archaeology forecast shows mixed outlook

Landward Research Ltd recently completed a report on the State of the Archaeological Market in the UK. There is both good news and bad news for the state of professional archaeology. Job losses have stabilized since the the recession but they are still down 800 positions (5,900) from pre-crash levels (6,700), though these numbers do not take into account the potential growth in jobs had the recession not occurred. Looking at the Profiling the Profession reports (provided at the Landward Website) between 2002-03 and 2007-08, employment increased by 20 percent. Had that trend continued, there would currently be around 8000 archaeology jobs in the UK. This puts the actual losses at closer to 2,000 jobs. This larger number probably explains the tough competition among recent graduates and veterans for jobs, there are five years of students who have not been able to obtain jobs except from positions created by the retirement of archaeologists.

When asked if the employment situation will improve, the report shows that the opinions expressed by commercial companies and other organizations are split. Read more…

UK tax code change could hurt historic preservation

The recently announced Chancellor’s Budget in the UK includes a proposal to increase the VAT from 0 to 20 percent for the alteration and maintenance of listed buildings. This will put a heavy financial burden on those that own or maintain historic listed buildings.

While not every building alteration on a listed building requires specialized historical preservation skills, many projects do  for at least some aspects. An increase of 20 percent for project costs may cause some repair projects to be postponed or shelved. This in turn may have a knock-on effect for those employed in the historic preservation sector. It may also hurt other sectors such as heritage and museum management. Sites and museums would see their maintenance costs increase forcing them to reallocate funds from other areas of their budgets. Though these results are hypothetical, and it is unknown at the moment what problems the tax increase might bring, the Council for British Archaeology is “urging its members to make their views on this known and also to sign the online petition.”

Full details can be found at the HM Revenue & Customs website and consultation on the proposed changes has been put up by the CBA (p. 23), which is open until 4 May 2012.

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