Private housing is hit the worst, although while infrastructure continues to grow

British construction orders fell by almost 9% in the three months to December, compared with the previous three months, according to official data.

Figures from the Office for National Statistics said orders in the last quarter of 2008 were 26% down on the same period in 2007. Orders for the whole year were 16% lower than the previous 12 months.

Private housing fared particularly poorly in the three months to December, with orders down 57% on the previous year. Public and housing association orders were down 28%.

However, infrastructure orders rose by 20% compared with the previous quarter and with the same three month period in 2007.

Simon Rubinsohn, the RICS chief economist, said it was only “a matter of time” before the figures were reflected in further industry job losses and called on the government to follow through on its promises to boost spending.

He said: “Bringing forward capital funding for vital projects will have the advantage of delivering much needed housing and infrastructure but will also go someway to preventing an employment crisis in the industry.

“As the UK enters a recession it is essential that skills are not lost to the construction sector as people leave and retrain to take up other jobs.”

Mark Prisk, shadow business minister, added: “Despite the government's promise of help for the construction industry, the reality is that even public housing orders are now falling.

“For the building industry, Gordon Brown's promises that he had built a strong economy, have turned out to be a mirage. What is needed now is action, not words.”