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Sat October 31 2020

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Civils contractors see trouble ahead

25 Nov 10 Civil engineering contractors have warned that the continuing downturn in their sector could put UK infrastructure as risk.

 The Civil Engineering Contractors Association’s Workload Trends Survey for October shows that half of the country’s civil engineering contractors saw lower workloads during the survey period than at the same point in 2009. Just 18% saw higher workloads. This balance of -32% represents a worsening of conditions since the last survey, where the balance was -24%, although it is still some way off the -77% and -59% balances recorded in January and April respectively.   

While firms of all sizes are experiencing this drop off, the survey shows that those hardest are those medium-sized enterprises employing between 115 and 299 employees. Among these firms 63% reported falling workloads, with just 4% reporting increases.

The results for the sector as a whole were reflected in the individual work type categories. Work on roads, rail airports, harbours, water and wastewater, electricity, communications and preliminary works were all down, with gas the only subsector showing any growth.

Such workload shortages continue to have knock-on effect on employment, with employment of operatives (both skilled and otherwise) and staff falling on the same period in 2009.

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And the outlook for the future looks little better, with order books also down on last year across all sizes of firm and types of work. Contractors have little confidence that there will be any return to growth in the sector, with 44% of respondents anticipating their workloads will be lower in 2011 that they are now, against just 8% who expect workloads to increase.

CECA national director Rosemary Beales said: “It is now well over two years since the industry first started to see its workload declining. Since then we have had tens of thousands of redundancies and there are now well over 20,000 fewer construction companies overall than there were in 2008. This is all before we experience the impact of the forthcoming cuts to public spending triggered by the Comprehensive Spending Review.

“The recently published National Infrastructure Plan highlights the fact that the UK will need to build £200 billion of new infrastructure over the coming five years. There is a real concern that the industry will have contracted dramatically by the time it is called on to deliver these vital improvements, which may force up tender prices and could put the future of the UK’s transport and utility networks at risk”.

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