The Federation of Master Builders says credit crunch and slowing housing markets are to blame

Construction workloads have fallen to their lowest levels since spring 2006, according to figures from the Federation of Master Builders.

Its State of Trade survey for the first quarter of 2008 showed the index figure for workload dropped to -8 from +6 in the fourth quarter of 2007.

The figure is the balance between the percentage of the 400 respondents that report an increase and those that have seen a fall.

The FMB report said: “Tighter credit markets and a slowing housing market are beginning to take their toll. SME construction firms are struggling to maintain their workload as economic conditions deteriorate.”

Hardest hit was the housing sector, which experienced double-digit drops across all markets. The private housing repair, maintenance and improvement market was the worst hit, with a figure of -38.

Sentiment remains poor and expectations of overall future workload was -4, its lowest level since 2005.

In terms of workload expectations the residential sector fared worse and firms operating in the new private housing sector were particularly downbeat. A negative balance of -23 compared to -8 in the previous quarter.

Across the country, the North-west was the strongest region in terms of current and expected workload. Northern Ireland was weak, suffering from what the FMB called “delays to public funding promised as part of the peace agreement.”