The latest construction survey from the buyers' body CIPS finds the industry plunging to new depths with civils and commercial work rapidly following the path led by the house builders.

The Purchasing Managers' Index for November reached a series low of 31.8 against a no change mark of 50. And most worrying for those engaged in the industry the employment index also reached a series low of 31.2.

Well, the savage cuts in jobs we have been seeing daily rather fit with that figure.

There is good news in the survey. The CIPS index that measures input prices fell to a record low of 44.7, the first time the UK constructors reported falling prices in 10 years.

However, for me the disturbing feature of the index is the measure of optimism about future activity. This came in at 51.0, suggesting an expansion in activity.

I look at the figures pretty much daily and I haven't seen anything to suggest that the industry is set for expansion.

One possible explanation I can think of to square the reality with the rather odd CIPS index reading is that there may be some anticipatory "survivor bias" (if you can excuse the ugly phrasing). It may be that those who feel they will not be driven to the wall expect to expand into the space left by those who do.

But pulling that notion out of the suggestion box is a bit desperate on my part as I scrabble to make sense of the figure.

Alternatively we might be seeing that "smiling in the rain" mentality that says we mustn't talk ourselves into recession so I will tell a white lie.

What I really fear this figure is telling us is what I have long felt: contractors are in denial over the potential severity of this recession.

It is all very well and indeed healthy to be of a sunny disposition, but when the mood swings to delusion it is time to seek professional help.

If firms are not preparing themselves for the reality of what they face - potentially a nasty, deep and fairly prolonged recession - then they may find it is already too late.

And it will not be just themselves and those they employ that will suffer as they take panic measures similar to those that created so much havoc in the recession of the early 1990s.

It is imperative that the industry as a whole recognises the severe challenges ahead and starts to act now to marshal a response, so that we avoid a desperate and unseemly scrabble for the lifeboats that will crush the unwitting and decent alike in the melee.