Construction workloads weaken

WORKLOADS in the construction industry continued to weaken across the board in the first three months of the year, but some key areas, including housing, saw an easing in the pace of the decline, according to a survey.

WORKLOADS in the construction industry continued to weaken across the board in the first three months of the year, but some key areas, including housing, saw an easing in the pace of the decline, according to a survey.

The RICS construction market survey, published today showed construction workloads across the East of England in negative territory for the fourth consecutive quarter.

Within the region, 43% more surveyors reported a fall rather than a rise in overall workloads in the first quarter, up from a negative net balance of 49.

But nationally, both private and public housing saw a slight improvement in the number of surveyors reporting falling workloads, with 49% more surveyors reporting a fall than a rise in private housing, up from negative 66%, and 13% reporting a fall than a rise in public housing, 7% less than the previous quarter.

RICS chief economist Simon Rubinsohn said the slight easing in public and private housing was broadly in line with the figures coming from the Government on the number of housing starts, which saw a small rise in the first quarter of 2009.

This could be aligned to recent signs of a gentle pick-up in activity in the housing market, he said.

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Private commercial and industrial workloads recorded the worst figures, with negative net balances of 57 and 61 respectively; while the infrastructure sector saw an accelerated pace of decline, the fastest in the survey's history, with 34% more surveyors reporting a fall than a rise. Many of those surveyed cited a lack of available finance and the delay in public sector projects as the main cause of pessimism for the current market.

The outlook for the next 12 months remains downbeat, according to the study, although expectations for future workloads improved slightly in the first quarter, with 38% more surveyors expecting a fall than a rise, against 45 at the end of 2008.

n Suffolk-based infrastructure specialists Breheny has warned staff it may have to lay off up to nine of its plant operators at Needham Market if orders do not pick up quickly.

The Creeting St Mary-based company said it has already laid off or was in the process of laying off around 15 of its labourers in response to the downturn.

The �60-70million turnover business, which employs 385 staff and undertakes projects ranging from infrastructure, groundworks and highways to remediation, marine works and coastal defence, said it estimated its turnover had dropped by around 10 to 20% as a result of less orders.

Construction director Trevor Stiff said their situation was “no worse than anyone else”

“I think there's just a general trend across the industry. There's not as much work around at the moment,” he said.

He said the industry was used to fluctuating workloads and this generally meant cutting sub contracting staff. However, he added: “It's fluctuating to such an extent now that we are looking to have to lay off some of our own directly employed guys. It's not nice.”