Tradesmen numbers falling

  • Independent tradesmen such as plumbers and bricklayers on the decline
  • But female-run tradesman businesses on the rise
  • Increase in cleaners and chimney sweeps reflects modern lifestyles

If you’ve struggled to find an independent tradesman it could be because their numbers are dwindling. Figures from Simply Business, the UK’s largest small business insurance provider, show that companies dedicated to some of the UK’s most crucial trades are on the decline.

The largest fall is in plumbing, which has seen a 25 per cent drop in businesses currently operating since 2009 and a seven per cent drop in the last year alone. This is closely followed by bricklayers, down 19 per cent, window cleaners down 18 per cent and joiners down 17 per cent in the last three years. Numerous other trades such as builders, carpenters and painter/decorators, have also seen their numbers decrease.

The findings, based on Simply Business quote and policy data from over 300,000 small businesses, reflect the decline in the wider construction industry, which recently saw output drop to its lowest level since 2009*. The economic downturn and depressed housing market has also hit the domestic market, with homeowners looking to make improvements themselves or not at all. Research last year showed the amount paid to tradesmen for home improvements had dropped by 40 per cent since 2001**.

On the positive side, it appears the gender balance in what is a traditionally male-dominated industry may be improving, with evidence showing that woman-run businesses are on the rise in some trades. The proportion of female-led bricklaying businesses is up 16 per cent, window cleaning businesses up 10 per cent, building businesses up eight per cent and painter and decorator businesses up five per cent.

One trade that has prospered in recent years is cleaning, up by 33 per cent since 2009, reflecting a society where the majority of people find little time to clean their own homes. Notably, chimney sweeps have also seen a revival, with a four per cent rise over the last three years, perhaps due to the current middle-class popularity of open fires.

Jason Stockwood, CEO of Simply Business commented: “Independent tradesmen provide a vital, often highly-skilled service to both home owners and commercial industry. It is therefore worrying to see a decline in some trades over recent years, as the slow economy has hit spending on infrastructure and home improvements.

“There are tentative signs of recovery in 2013 with house prices and confidence on the up . However, with Government spending on infrastructure and housing slow to materialise, commercial construction could be in for a more drawn-out recovery. While there are still thousands of talented tradesmen doing a fantastic job across the country, investment is needed to ensure there is enough work to keep them all afloat.”

Markit/CIPS purchasing managers’ index – February 2013 
** Lloyds TSB survey – May 2012

Biggest fallers since 2009 % down
Plumbers -25%
Bricklayers -19%
Window cleaners -18%
Joiners -17%
Roofers -11%
Gardener -9%
Builder -7%
Carpenter -7%
Painter and decorator -5%
Plasterer -3%

Case study

Ex-bricklayer, Scott Ogden, 37, left the building trade to become a Tour Manager for All Inn Records, a recording company:

“I got into the building trade after leaving school because it was quite a well-paid job at the time. But during the recession, everything changed. Tradesmen suffered a 40 per cent pay cut while also taking on more responsibilities. You always feel like a dispensable employee without any rights - you don’t know whether you’ll have a job from one day to the next and I would rarely work a full week.

“The situation made me realise that I wanted a job where I was respected, doing something I am really passionate about. I now work as a tour manager for a recording company, All Inn Records, and also work as a Reiki healer on the side. My new career suits my personality and interests so much more than bricklaying and the change has transformed how I feel about working. I definitely have no regrets so far.”

For further information, please contact:

Ben Jenkins/Zuzana Bielikova
020 7009 3100

About Simply Business

Simply Business is the UK’s biggest business insurance provider, specialising in public liability insurance for SMEs and landlord insurance.

Launched in 2005, Simply Business provides an online brokerage service delivering policies tailored to individual business requirements. It has a team of UK based insurance specialists and employs almost 300 people across offices in London and Northampton.

Simply Business provides insurance to more than 400,000 UK SMEs and landlords and owing to its internal underwriting capability can cover over 1,000 trade types. It has been a Sunday Times Tech Track 100 company for the past three years and was recently named in the Deloitte Technology Fast 500 EMEA. Revenues have grown from £4.2 million in 2006, to £25.4 million in 2014, and the company has been named 2015 and 2016 winners of The Sunday Times’ Best Company to Work For.