The surveyors' body RICS found that public sector funding was providing some much needed relief for the construction sector.
The shift in the numbers in its construction market survey was quite marked. The balance of firms seeing a decline in workload reduced to -26 from the -45 figure in the first quarter of the year. The balance works on the basis that positive figures represent more firms seeing growth than see falls.
So a score of -26 is still pretty bad, but not as bad as it would have been had there not been a bounce in the workload in the public sector, which was the only major sector to show a positive balance.
There was however a general tick up in the graphs depicting the rate of decline in the other sectors, noticeably in the housing sector.
If anything the RICS figures tend to portray a picture of the industry a bit ahead of work on the ground. So these figures appear to suggest that further down the line we should see the falls in output ease. But falls there will be.
The numbers do indicate that outside the public sector non-housing and non-infrastructure sector the rate of decline is still brutal.
And while the picture on workload may not look as bleak as it did six months ago, the prospects for employment and profits remain pretty gruesome, with pretty large negative balances despite a slight reduction in the inferred rate of collapse.
So a less horrific picture than six months ago, but this can only realistically be seen as a breathing space before the nasty onslaught on public sector cuts takes effect.
On my assessment the industry has about a year to reshape itself for levels of workload far below those to which it has grown accustomed. More importantly, it will need to learn how to live without turnover growth.
Sadly the signs are that the industry is self-harming in the run up to its biggest challenge in a generation. Not the best preparation.
Back to two of my big concerns of the moment: lunatic bidding (and it is not just our contracting brethren); and the madness of an unplanned migration into new markets in a desperate bid to win work.
Here are a few highly selected, but pertinent nonetheless, quotes taken from the report:
We are finding that clients are accepting very low prices for work. We quoted a keen price of £57k and the Client let the contract at £30K. There would appear to be a lot of undercutting going on.
A general feel that there are some very low quotations being submitted for work. Margins are now down by 40% compared to 12 months ago.
Tender prices again continue to fall, which is as anticipated, with no upturn in sight for a long time to come. Public sector activity locally in education, housing and health services continues to provide limited opportunities for the construction industry.
Workload holding up but tenders plummeting. Contractors and consultants going in at 0% overheads and profit. It will all end in tears or worse if they have to price at this level for much longer.
Silly fee bids in competition. I cannot see how some firms will be able to deliver a professional service at the cut throat fees they are submitting.
Unrealistic and unsustainable tenders being returned by desperate contractors. Clients with schemes are not letting them go in a strucutred way - big delays and then all once.
Competition is at its keenest for several years within RSL market with quite a few companies entering the marketplace who hitherto had not shown any such interest.