More than two thirds (67%) of civil engineering contractors are experiencing lower workloads than a year ago, according to the latest quarterly Workload Trends survey published by the Civil Engineering Contractors Association (CECA).
This is a slight improvement on January's survey, when 77% of firms reported falling workloads.
But with just 8% of firms reporting a rise in workloads over the last year, the situation is bleak.
Particularly hard hit were the UK’s larger civil engineering businesses, with 79% of firms employing more than 600 employees reporting falling workloads. Surveys earlier in the downturn showed SME contractors most affected by declining work.
The picture was grim in almost every sector. In water, the balance between those reporting increasing workloads against those reporting falling workloads was -63%, in electricity -53%, and in local roads -50%. Only communications returned a marginal positive score of 1%.
Employment was also lower for most firms than in April 2009. More than half (52%) of companies reported lower employment of operatives than 12 months ago, against just 9% reporting rises. Staff numbers were down at 40% of firms, with only 11% employing more staff than a year ago.
The companies surveyed also reported that their order books had dwindled, with 58% reporting falling orders compared with 19% saying orders have increased.
Expectations have also declined, perhaps as a result of the cuts planned by the new Government. Some 48% of firms expect their work levels in the coming year to drop, while only 5% expect an increas in work over the coming 12 months. At -43%, the balance between the two figures is more negative than at any time since the start of the UK economic downturn.
CECA National Director Rosemary Beales said: “The UK civil engineering sector has entered its second consecutive year of declining orders. The industry will be aware that the Government is running the rule over all areas of public sector spending, with a real danger that cuts mean the situation gets worse before it gets better.
“Given the manifesto commitments made by the Conservative Party and the subsequent coalition agreement, any cuts should come as no surprise. Whilst we are pleased the Government intends to provide the country with early direction on our economic future, history tells us that cuts to budgets for maintenance and renewal of the UK’s vital infrastructure networks may lead to bigger bills further down the line, as avoidable problems are left to fester.
“The UK faces huge challenges in the coming decade, particularly in keeping the country moving and keeping the lights on. Government must balance the need to reduce the deficit with the need to invest in infrastructure, which will play a key role in the delivery of a sustainable, low carbon economic recovery.”