The March figures for construction new orders were only marginally better than those seen in the previous two months and there are still little signs that point to any stabilisation in industry workload.

Monthly new order figures can be volatile, so to assess the trend in work volume it is better to look at 3-months figures. These show that overall order volumes in the first quarter of this year were the worst since records began in 1983, down by a fifth compared to the final quarter of 2008 and 38% lower compared to last year.

The figures underline the broad fall of construction work across many sectors. Every sector - even public non-residential - was down both on a year earlier and the preceding quarter - with the exception of infrastructure.

Housing related orders were somewhat better in March, but it is early days to call an upturn in the housebuilding sector.

The commercial sector remains in dire straits, with the value of office projects halving in the first quarter compared to the final three months of 2008 and dropping by nearly 70% on last year. Retail and private leisure related work remain equally muted. At the same time, the flow of PFI education and health project also continues to dwindle.

Industrial new orders, both for factories and warehouses, remain bleak - no surprise given the dismal state of the manufacturing sector and the volatile state of retailers and distributors.

The flow of government funded non-residential work has disappointed in recent months, given government promises to step up and bring forward investment in education and health facilities as part of the fiscal stimulus programme to support the UK economy. Schools and colleges related work slipped back by a fifth compared to the previous three months and was more than a quarter lower compared to last year. Health work in the first quarter was up modestly on the preceding three months, but remained down by more than a fifth on last year.

It is the infrastructure sector where perhaps some comfort can be found. There where substantial contract awards in the roads and electricity sub-sectors, rail work remained firm and water related orders also increased.

So, while recent survey figures from CIPS/ Markit suggest that the pace of the decline in construction may have started to ease in April, it is way too early to call the turning point in the fortunes for the construction industry. There is a long way to go yet in this downturn.

Maren Baldauf-Cunnington is a construction economist with cost consultant Davis Langdon and is based in Dubai