Women buck tradespeople decline

The number of independent tradespeople in the UK is falling.

This is according to new research from Simply Business, which found a sharp decline in the number of independent businesses operating in fields like plumbing and bricklaying.

The plumbing trade has been the hardest hit, with a 25 per cent drop in the number of plumbers operating since 2009. Bricklayers, window cleaners, and joiners all saw similar falls over the period.

But, while the total number of independent tradespeople operating in these fields is falling, the number of female-run businesses is on the rise in certain fields. In a survey of over 300,000 small firms Simply Business found the proportion of bricklaying businesses run by women has increased by 16 per cent since 2009. A rise of 10 per cent was seen in window cleaning.

Calls for support

The figures come soon after calls for further support for female entrepreneurs. In January the shadow Women’s Minister Seema Malhotra urged the government to institute new measures to boost the number of women running their own business. According to the latest Global Entrepreneurship Monitoring Report, less than a third of of those in “early-stage entrepreneurial activity” are women.

Construction weakness

Meanwhile the total decline in the trade sector mirrors that of construction. The Markit/CIPS Construction Purchasing Managers’ Index has shown a slowing in the sector over the first quarter of the year, with the most recent figures demonstrating the sharpest decline since 2009. According to the survey the sector has contracted every month since October. Last week ONS figures showed a 7.9 per cent drop in total construction output since January 2012, while output between November 2012 and January 2013 showed a 10 per cent fall on the previous year.

Construction accounts for around 7 per cent of the country’s total output, but it is seen as a key indicator of economic stability. Poor performance in the construction sector last year was considered a key factor in the country’s return to recession.

Simply Business CEO Jason Stockwood said: “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.

“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.”