Sudden fall in number of smaller firms seeking help on employment issues cheers industry bodies

The number of small and medium-sized contractors seeking advice on redundancy fell to its lowest point this year in April, adding weight to the argument that green shoots are emerging.

Statistics from the National Federation of Builders (NFB) show that 89 calls made to its helplines were related to job cuts in April, 23% of the total. This is about half of the total in March, when 167 calls were made. The last time the percentage was so low was in June last year.

The Federation of Master Builders (FMB) also reported a 40% decline in the number of members seeking advice on redundancy since January.

Richard Diment, director general of the FMB, said: “By January 2009 the department was receiving more than double the number of calls on employment than it had in January 2008. In April they reduced by 40% from their peak in January.”

The NFB figures are still markedly higher than the same period a year ago, when just 33 calls, 15% of the total, were made, but will be seen as further evidence that the impact of the recession is easing.

NFB member Paul Strank, owner of Paul Strank and Sons Roofing, said the statistics matched his experience. He said: “Between October and February, I had three to four jobs a day. Now it’s back up to between eight and 12. That’s exceptionally good.”

However, industry bodies warned the sector not to make early assumptions. Julia Evans, chief executive of the NFB, said: “The predicted green shoots are very hard to detect. Although the record high number of calls at the turn of the year may have reduced, there is still an exceptional demand for help on employment issues.”

Rudi Klein, the chief executive of the Specialist Engineering Contractors Group, added: “It’s too patchy to believe this could be the end of the recession.”

The CBI downgraded its recession forecasts on Monday, but warned that recovery would be “slow and gradual”.