The last time the construction industry had to puzzle out what to do with output falling as fast as it did in the final quarter of 2008 was when the Rubik's Cube was the must-have Christmas present.

Official figures published today show a drop of 7% in construction output over the quarter. Or put in more brutal terms the industry did £2 billion less work.

You have to go back to the final months of 1980 to see a collapse like it.

And if you think that all sounds bad, looking ahead it is hard to see how the industry will head off a double dip in a year or two's time when the Government shifts to rebuilding its books and away from stimulating the economy through construction.

I use the phrase double dip mainly because there is a possibility that the current slide may give at least the impression of easing within a year or two.

But I cannot see from where we stand now anything but a slide in public spending on construction ahead, particularly given that future spending has been concertinaed forward in areas such as housing. This would send the industry plunging further down into recession.

The pressure to curb public spending on the Government - Labour or Conservative - holding the nation's purse strings after the next election will be immense. The generally accepted political response is to take that kind of pain early in the term of office.

There is always hope that the private sector can responds in time to fill the gap left by a retreating public sector. The balance of risks suggests you'd get long odds on that in the bookies.

Looking in more detail at the latest figures is sobering not just because of the scale and speed of the decline, but that even sectors thought to be safe havens have been bashed by the storm following the credit crunch. Social housing work fell 14% in the final quarter and public non-housing repair and maintenance also dipped sharply in the final quarter.

Naturally there will be sectors and sub-sectors that do relatively well. There always are. But for construction as a whole this latest set of figures may prove just the first in a series of very depressing releases from the Office for National Statistics.

This is looking very much like a recession far worse than that in the 1990s.