March of the makers? Hardly

More like the march of the ex-builders, plumbers, carpenters, electricians and roofers.

Today, it is the turn of the construction industry to enter centre stage and, as usual, these days, the news isn't good.

First, the ONS published its New Orders in the Construction Industry: 2nd quarter 2011. Unfortunately, there weren't many. New orders in the second quarter of 2011 fell by 16.3 per cent in comparison with the first quarter.

The total volume of all new orders is now at its lowest total since the third quarter of 1980.

New construction orders fell by 23.2 per cent, compared with the same period in 2010. Private industrial was the only sector that showed positive growth from the first to the second quarter (6.6 per cent).

New orders in construction have collapsed under the coalition. Here is the data in constant (2005) prices, seasonally adjusted in millions of pounds, showing the collapse of new orders from the second half of 2010 -- in other words, when the coalition took office.

Q1 £13,376
Q2 £12,375
Q3 £11,503
Q4 £12,983

Q1 £11,349
Q2 £9,502

Also, today, CIPS/Markit published their PMI for UK construction, which showed that rate of growth in construction continued to weaken in August. It was notable that employment levels and sub-contractor usage continued to fall during the latest survey period, which respondents linked to either lower workloads or expectations of weaker market demand

Sarah Bingham, economist at Markit and author of the UK construction PMI said:

August data signalled slower growth of both output and new orders as headwinds caused by uncertain economic conditions impacted on sector performance. Confidence regarding future business expectations weakened to an eight-month low, highlighting concerns in respect of further potential cuts in government spending, but also a dampening of wider business sentiment, which may act to reduce investment on construction projects. Another month of job cuts again reinforced lower confidence over future activity levels within the construction sector.

In my column this week, I worried that the march of the makers may become the march of the unemployed ex-makers. The march of the ex-builders, ex-plumbers, ex-carpenters, ex-electricians and ex-roofers appears to have already started.

David Blanchflower is economics editor of the New Statesman and professor of economics at Dartmouth College, New Hampshire

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The strange death of boozy Britain: why are young people drinking less?

Ditching alcohol for work.

Whenever horrific tales of the drunken escapades of the youth are reported, one photo reliably gets wheeled out: "bench girl", a young woman lying passed out on a public bench above bottles of booze in Bristol. The image is in urgent need of updating: it is now a decade old. Britain has spent that time moving away from booze.

Individual alcohol consumption in Britain has declined sharply. In 2013, the average person over 15 consumed 9.4 litres of alcohol, 19 per cent less than 2004. As with drugs, the decline in use among the young is particularly notable: the proportion of young adults who are teetotal increased by 40 per cent between 2005 and 2013. But decreased drinking is not only apparent among the young fogeys: 80 per cent of adults are making some effort to drink less, according to a new study by consumer trends agency Future Foundation. No wonder that half of all nightclubs have closed in the last decade. Pubs are also closing down: there are 13 per cent fewer pubs in the UK than in 2002. 

People are too busy vying to get ahead at work to indulge in drinking. A combination of the recession, globalisation and technology has combined to make the work of work more competitive than ever: bad news for alcohol companies. “The cost-benefit analysis for people of going out and getting hammered starts to go out of favour,” says Will Seymour of Future Foundation.

Vincent Dignan is the founder of Magnific, a company that helps tech start-ups. He identifies ditching regular boozing as a turning point in his career. “I noticed a trend of other entrepreneurs drinking three, four or five times a week at different events, while their companies went nowhere,” he says. “I realised I couldn't be just another British guy getting pissed and being mildly hungover while trying to scale a website to a million visitors a month. I feel I have a very slight edge on everyone else. While they're sleeping in, I'm working.” Dignan now only drinks occasionally; he went three months without having a drop of alcohol earlier in the year.

But the decline in booze consumption isn’t only about people becoming more work-driven. There have never been more alternate ways to be entertained than resorting to the bottle. The rise of digital TV, BBC iPlayer and Netflix means most people means that most people have almost limitless choice about what to watch.

Some social lives have also partly migrated online. In many ways this is an unfortunate development, but one upshot has been to reduce alcohol intake. “You don’t need to drink to hang out online,” says Dr James Nicholls, the author of The Politics of Alcohol who now works for Alcohol Concern. 

The sheer cost of boozing also puts people off. Although minimum pricing on booze has not been introduced, a series of taxes have made alcohol more expensive, while a ban on below-cost selling was introduced last year. Across the 28 countries of the EU, only Ireland has higher alcohol and tobacco prices than the UK today; in 1998 prices in the UK were only the fourth most expensive in the EU.

Immigration has also contributed to weaning Britain off booze. The decrease in alcohol consumption “is linked partly to demographic trends: the fall is largest in areas with greater ethnic diversity,” Nicholls says. A third of adults in London, where 37 per cent of the population is foreign born, do not drink alcohol at all, easily the highest of any region in Britain.

The alcohol industry is nothing if not resilient. “By lobbying for lower duty rates, ramping up their marketing and developing new products the big producers are doing their best to make sure the last ten years turn out to be a blip rather than a long term change in culture,” Nicholls says.

But whatever alcohol companies do to fight back against the declining popularity of booze, deep changes in British culture have made booze less attractive. Forget the horrific tales of drunken escapades from Magaluf to the Bullingdon Club. The real story is of the strange death of boozy Britain. 

Tim Wigmore is a contributing writer to the New Statesman and the author of Second XI: Cricket In Its Outposts.