After the inaugural meeting of the CBI Construction Council this week, the demeanour of the construction bosses who lined up to talk about the future said as much about the state of the industry as their words did.

John McDonough, the Carillion chief exec, spent much of the time reclined in his chair with a hand curled around his coffee cup. With 80% of his work from the public sector, perhaps he has good reason to appear at ease with the world.

James Wates, deputy chairman of Wates Group, came across as slightly tense - particularly when the subject of redundancies from the company's fit-out business was brought up.

Meanwhile Keith Miller, boss of Miller Group, sat hunched over the table looking pensive. With a large housebuilding operation and a fifth of your company in the hands of HBOS you can guess why. When he spoke he came across as straightforward and decent as ever; the housing market was "dire", he said. 

The absence of Barratt's Mark Clare and Taylor Wimpey's Pete Redfern also said a lot.

Whatever people have said about Clare's newness to the industry in the past, he is a seasoned performer that can handle pretty much anything thrown at him.

Redfern has been conspicuously low-profile during the company's refinancing talks. Few in the City have a bad word to say about him and he is reportedly a "cerebral" and "compassionate" character.

Whatever the personal strengths of construction bosses at the moment, the market is proving a largely unforgiving arena.