The credit squeeze has pushed client enquiries to their lowest levels since 2005, according to the Federation of Master Builders.
In its state of the trade survey for the fourth quarter of last year, the FMB said 40% of builders had reported a drop.
Brian Berry, the FMB’s director of external affairs, said: “What is concerning is that, with the exception of Scotland, the drop off in enquiries is consistent right across the UK for all types of building work.”
The federation reported that the 510 firms included in its survey were not optimistic about the first quarter of this year. The proportion of respondents anticipating an increase in workload was 30%, which is nine percentage points below the third quarter of last year. Those forecasting a lower workload increased 11 percentage points to 31%.
The FMB added that the downturn meant fewer employers had difficulty attracting staff or hiring subcontractors, although carpenters and joiners remained in short supply.
The proportion reporting labour supply problems was 43%, compared with 53% in the second quarter of last year and 48% in the third.
The fall off in activity has also eased pressure on materials suppliers. Berry said: “Members are reporting far fewer delays in the supply of building materials and products, which should help speed up the building process.”