The interim results of Sheffield-based contractor and housebuilder Henry Boot were hit by what the company described as “the spectre of low margins, high risk, competitiveness and poor payment which continue to dog the industry”.

Group managing director Jamie Boot said most of the contractor’s clients still bought work on the basis of lowest competitive tender price but added that the division was now targeting repeat work and selecting jobs more carefully.

This new policy pushed group turnover down £1m to £66.4m for the six months to 30 June 1999. Boot said construction turnover was likely to be down again in the second half of the year.

But a strong performance in housebuilding and property helped the group to a pre-tax profit rise of 8% to £3.8m. Boot said the group had seen a significant increase in housing reservations in the Northampton area in the past month, which could be interpreted as an early ripple from the South-east housing boom.

However, Boot added that the housing division was experiencing skills shortages. He said bricklayers and joiners were in particularly short supply in all of the company’s regions from Bristol to Glasgow.