The National Specialist Contractors Council (NSCC) survey for the second quarter of 2013 showed 49% of firms reporting an increase in enquiries and 24% reporting a decrease. This was a third quarter in a row where the number of firms seeing an increase had risen.
Order levels were also up with 44% reporting an increase, compared to just 27% last quarter.
The balance of specialist contractors anticipating an increase in workload over the next quarter has risen to a long-term high of 42%, up from 35% last quarter. 48% anticipate an increase in workload whereas only 6% are anticipating a decrease, which is one of the lowest responses reported in the 20-year history of the survey.
This increase in trade has led 31% of specialist contractors to look at expanding their businesses in the next three months and 41% to plan expansion over the next year. However, the NSCC fears that their plans may be hindered by the number of skilled workers that have left the industry to seek alternative employment during the recession. One in five specialist contractors is reporting more difficulty in recruiting skilled labour, the highest level for more than five years, and 9% are already stating that they were unable to bid for work because of skills shortages.
NSCC said it was working with CITB to address the skills shortage and promote training apprenticeships.
Late payment is still affecting specialist contractors with just 5% receiving payment within 30 days. For the 54% of respondents who carried out public sector work, 74% of their contracts were reported as being paid within the 30 days that is now a contractual requirement on central government contracts.
NSCC chief executive Suzannah Nichol said: “After an extremely tough few years, it’s good to see optimism returning in the specialist sector. However, successful long term growth will only be possible if the industry solves the problem of late payment which continues to impact on the supply chain. This has been recognised in the ‘Industrial Strategy: Construction 2025’ and NSCC will be working with government to ensure that the commitment to address payment practices is taken forward.”
NSCC contributes its findings to the state of trade survey published by the Construction Products Association, enabling the experiences of the specialist sector to be compared with the wider industry.