PERSIMMON has said the number of homes it built in the first six months of this year fell by more than a third but that the pick-up as lockdown restrictions were eased has been bolstered by first-time buyers.

The housebuilder revealed the scale of impact from the Covid-19 pandemic as it saw the number of homes it built in the first half of the year fall 35 per cent to 4,900 compared with 7,584 a year earlier.

With building sites shut and managers moving to implement social distancing measures, homes could not be completed and pre-tax profits plunged 43%.

The company said the lifting of restrictions and resumption of construction meant building levels returned to pre-Covid levels by the end of June and its strong balance sheet meant staff were paid in full during lockdown.

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Around 50% of private legal completions in the six months to June 30 were to first time buyers, persimmon said. It also said it did not use the UK Government furlough scheme, adding: “All colleagues were retained on full pay, without recourse to Government funding, throughout the lockdown period continuing to drive the business forward, serving our customers, progressing site preparation works and completing remote training course.” It had a phased reopening in Scotland on June 15 for construction operations and 29 June for site-based sales activity.

Dave Jenkinson, Persimmon chief executive said the performance was enough for the board to agree to a 40p per share dividend being paid out. He added: “Taking an early decision not to take advantage of the furlough scheme for any colleagues, we maintained good momentum in the business, continuing to serve our customers, making detailed preparations for a safe return to work and, when it was appropriate, restarting our build programmes  efficiently." Sales of private homes since the start of July have jumped 49% year on year, with a current forward order book of £2.5bn, up 21% on last year.

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Mr Jenkinson said: "Our strong opening work in progress position and excellent build rate through the summer give us confidence in a positive second half out-turn.

"We expect that by the end of September, we will have delivered (circa) 45% of our anticipated second half new home legal completions."

Revenues for the six months to June 30 were £1.19bn, down from £1.76bn a year earlier.

Gross margins on new housing fell from 33.8% to 31.3% and pre-tax profits plunged from £509.3m to £292.4m.

It said the short-term outlook is robust "with strong start to the second half and healthy level of forward orders, noting "potential medium-term risks to demand associated with Covid-19, rising unemployment and Brexit remain but long-term housing market fundamentals continue to be strong.

"Persimmon is well placed to navigate potential future challenges and deliver superior long-term sustainable returns in the best interests of all its stakeholders."

The firm has sites across Scotland including Cumbernauld and Dunfermline

Shares in Persimmon closed 8% up at 2,822p.