Pace of decline of construction workloads eases

Construction workloads remained in negative territory for the fourth consecutive quarter with 45 percent more surveyors reporting a fall rather than a rise in overall workloads in the first quarter, up from a net balance of -47. Both private and public housing saw a slight improvement in the number of surveyors reporting falling workloads, with 49 percent more surveyors reporting a fall than a rise in private housing, up from -66 percent, and 13 percent reporting a fall than a rise in public housing, 7 percent less than the previous quarter.

"This slight easing we are seeing in both public and private housing is broadly in line with the figures coming from the Government on the number of housing starts, which saw a small rise in the first quarter of 2009, and could be aligned to recent signs of a gentle pick-up in activity in the housing market," commented RICS chief economist Simon Rubinsohn.

Private commercial and industrial workloads recorded the worst figures, with net balances of -57 and -61 respectively; whilst the infrastructure sector saw an accelerated pace of decline, the fastest in the survey's history, with 34 percent more surveyors reporting a fall than a rise. Many respondents cited a lack of available finance and the delay in public sector projects as the main cause of pessimism for the current market.

The outlook for the next twelve months remains downbeat. Expectations for future workloads improved slightly in the first quarter, with 38 percent more surveyors expecting a fall than a rise, up from 45 at the end of 2008. The net balance of surveyors expecting employment levels to fall remained fairly constant with 46 percent more surveyors expecting employment levels to fall. However 72 percent more surveyors expected profits to be down over the coming months.

Simon Rubinsohn continues, "Activity is still declining across the construction sector, but it appears to be doing so at a lesser rate than was previously the case and public sector projects will play a key role in any recovery as long as the finance is made available to prevent them from stalling.

"Despite some sub-sectors showing slightly more positive signs, construction output is likely to post a double digit drop over the course of 2009 with a further loss of employment and skills in the industry."