Construction Confederation survey reports increased workload, but enquiries hit three-year low.
A drop in new enquiries took the shine off a rise in construction output for the first three months of the year, in what the Construction Confederation described as a "fragile, patchy recovery".

The confederation's quarterly survey found that 13% more firms reported a rise in output than reported a fall, compared with 5% in the previous quarter.

It also recorded an increase in output for 32% of companies in the private housing and commercial sectors, but showed a decline in infrastructure work for the fifth consecutive quarter.

New enquiries were well down on the average figure for the past three years. Eight out of 10 regions recorded a drop in new enquiries, and only 5% of respondents said they expected more enquiries.

Commenting on the figures, Construction Confederation president Sir Martin Laing said: "The results of the survey are encouraging and show there is a greater amount of confidence around.

"We are hoping that the patchy recovery is a delayed reaction from the widespread pessimism seen last year, and that enquiries will improve over the coming months with the recovery becoming broader as a result." The survey also showed a further decline in public sector housing workload.

Sir Martin said: "There has still been no impact from promised spending of the government's capital receipts, which it said it wanted directed into renewing existing housing stock.

"The assumption is that the money is going into new housing, but we are not seeing that either." Regionally, workloads rose most in the Midlands and Yorkshire and fell furthest in London and Wales. Problems securing skilled labour seem to have eased, and employment is expected to rise nationwide in the second quarter.

  • The Civil Engineering Contractors Association's quarterly survey showed workloads improving, with order books set to fill up over the next 12 months.

    However, the CECA said a lack of investment in national and local road infrastructure had resulted in a sharp decline in workload figures, which were down 42% and 68% respectively on the first quarter of 1998.

    Commenting on the drop in road work, Sir Martin said: "Railtrack is now spending £27bn to upgrade the rail network because of years of lack of maintenance. It is clear that if we don't continue to maintain our roads, then in four or five years, we will need the same degree of expenditure. And where the government and the local authorities will get £15bn-20bn from I don't know."