Builders' workloads increased by more than a quarter in the first three months of the year, the Federation of Master Builders' latest figures reveal.
Workloads increased 26% compared with the final quarter of 2000. A further increase of 37% is expected in the three months to the end of June.

The figures are further evidence of a continuing economic boom in construction and are likely to attract more investors to the listed construction and housebuilding companies (see opposite).

FMB director-general Ian Davis said the figures showed that the building sector remained buoyant, despite talk of a recession.

He said: "The positive workloads for builders and high levels of enquiries for future work undermine speculation that Britain could be heading for a recession."

Workloads increased across all regions except Northern Ireland and Scotland, but even firms in those regions expected more work in the second quarter. Workloads increased most in the east Midlands, the South-east and Wales.

Nearly half of the 450 firms surveyed said workloads were higher than in the preceding three months, 38% said workloads were the same and only 18% reported a drop. The FMB said the increases were mainly in repair and maintenance for non-residential and public buildings and orders for new industrial and commercial building.

Orders for repair, maintenance and improvement of private housing also grew. New build and refurbishment of industrial buildings and new build of social housing lagged behind other sectors.

FMB deputy director-general Brian Flint said the figures demonstrated that there was confidence in the economy.

He said: "Domestic consumers have confidence in the economy and a lot of people are re-mortgaging to raise funds to maintain, improve and repair. The demand is strong throughout the country." He said low interest rates were also helping to stoke demand.

But the boom has heightened the skilled labour shortage, with 52% of firms surveyed reporting problems recruiting craftsmen, including bricklayers, carpenters, plasterers and plumbers.

The federation also sounded a note of caution over the figures. Davis claimed that rocketing workloads would attract more cowboy builders looking to cash in on the demand.