New official figures for construction output published today show that the construction industry took a beating in the first quarter of this year.

Overall in cash terms construction output was down 3.7% on the same quarter a year ago and 18% down on the first quarter in 2008.

The initial launch of the new monthly-based construction output figures provides data only split by new work and repair and maintenance.

But the picture they paint of the first quarter of 2010 is exceptionally gloomy for local builders and those majors who specialise in repair and maintenance, with output in cash terms down almost 10% on a year earlier.

The public sector boost of the former Government does seem to have propped up new work, which actually grew in cash terms in the first quarter.

But this is scant consolation given that new work is earning the industry 20% less than two years ago and the public sector is in line for the biggest savaging for a generation.

That said the actual fall in the level of work in the first quarter of this year may be exaggerated as the cold snap will have hurt construction. But comparatively this will have made little difference as the figures a year ago were also impacted by inclement weather in the first quarter.

Given that prices have been falling, later data showing construction measured at constant prices might show that workloads dropped less severely than these figures might suggest.

But again this will be of little comfort to construction firms who have bills to pay in cash and are seeing input prices rising.

The release of the new figures has meant some changes, the impact of which will become clearer as more data is released on individual sectors.

One point of interest for the Statos is that the construction industry is now put 1.94% bigger in cash terms than previously estimated. Meanwhile, within this the new cast of the figures new work is boosted at the expense of repair and maintenance, at least in the current price figures anyway.

But it’s good that the official statisticians are moving from a quarterly to a monthly count of construction output. This may make for a better understanding of what factors really do influence workload in the shorter term.

And another big advantage of the new more regularly updated data series is that we will not have to look back as we would have before 9:30 this morning with no officially clues as to what happened to construction output over the past six months.