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. That figure represents the balance between the percentage of 400 SMEs to report an increase in work and those reporting a fall.

The report said: “Tighter credit and a slowing housing market are beginning to take their toll. SMEs 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.

Confidence was low and expectations of overall future workload was –4, its lowest level since 2005. The residential market was the most pessimistic, with firms operating in the new private housing sector recording a figure of –23 compared with –8 in the previous quarter.