UK construction contracts for third month running

Sector posts continued decline.

The UK construction PMI, released today, indicates moderate contraction in that sector for the third month in a row. The rate of contraction (represented by an index of 48.7, where 50 means no change) was unchanged from December.

 

Commenting on the report, David Noble, CEO of the Chartered Institute of Purchasing & Supply which co-publishes the report with Markit economics, said:

Snow compounded difficult economic conditions to ensure the construction sector’s winter blues continued into January. Yet against expectations, businesses have a spring in their step looking ahead to 2013. This new-found confidence has been buoyed by news of public investment, but it could be found wanting, if the Government’s recent rhetoric on major infrastructure projects fails to bear fruit.

The construction sector is a relatively small section of the UK's overall output, but a key enabler of growth in other sectors. Its continued depression will likely have second-order effects, acting as a dampener on the rate of expansion in the more economically crucial sectors like services and manufacturing.

Additionally, the report highlights the continued contraction in housing construction as one of the drivers of the sector's weakness. With housebuilding a perennial political issue, the news indicates that measures to prop it up are yet to have the desired impact — although, with the rate of contraction slowing somewhat, the news is not as dire as it could have been.

Construction, as she is played. Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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Jeremy Corbyn fares well in his toughest interview yet

Labour will be relieved that Corbyn's encounter with Andrew Neil was less painful than Theresa May's. 

Jeremy Corbyn's half-hour BBC1 interview with Andrew Neil was the toughest grilling he has faced since becoming Labour leader. Neil sought to cause Corbyn maximum discomfort by confronting him with his past views on the IRA, NATO and Trident (which he never anticipated having to defend from his current position). 

"I didn't support the IRA, I don't support the IRA," Corbyn said in response to the first. After Neil countered that Corbyn "invited convicted IRA terrorists to tea in the Commons a few weeks after the Brighton bomb," the Labour leader replied: "I never met the IRA. I obviously did meet people from Sinn Fein" (a distinction without a difference, some will say). But after the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, Corbyn is aided by the reduced toxicity of the subject (New Labour dealt with terrorists) and the fact that for some voters, the young most of all, "the troubles" are a distant memory.

NATO, Neil recalled, had been described by Corbyn as "'a very dangerous Frankenstein of an organisation', 'a danger to world peace'. Two years ago you said it should be 'wound up'." It is to Corbyn's credit, in some respects, that he struggles to disguise his sincere views, and he did on this occasion. "NATO exists," he observed at one point, eventually conceding after much prodding: "I will be a committed member of that alliance in order to promote peace, justice, human rights and democracy". But nearly 30 years after the end of the Cold War, the subject will seem esoteric to many voters.

Trident, however, is another matter. "My views on nuclear weapons are well-known," Corbyn correctly noted, making it clear that the Labour manifesto committed to full renewal against his wishes. "I voted against the renewal," he said. "Everybody knows that because I wanted to go in a different direction." That the opposition is divided on such a profound issue - and that Corbyn's stance is at odd with the electorate's - is undoubtedly a drag on Labour's support.

But under forensic examination, Corbyn emerged stronger than many predicted. There were few moments of intemperance and no disastrous gaffes. Corbyn successfully dodged a question on whether Labour would cut immigration by replying that the numbers would "obviously reduce" if more workers were trained. Indeed, compared with Theresa May's painful encounter with Neil last Monday, Corbyn's team will be relieved by his performance. Though the Labour leader cannot escape his past, he avoided being trapped by it tonight. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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