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Civils contractors report slowdown in downturn - but order books are still declining

The Civil Engineering Contractors Association’s Workload Trends Survey for the first quarter of 2009 has showed that contractors’ total civil engineering order books are still declining, but that the rate of decline has slowed.

Since the downward trend started in July 2008, each successive quarter has recorded progressively weaker results.

The latest survey, however, record a slight slowdown in the rate of that decline, thanks to less negative results from Scotland and Wales, while results in England deteriorated marginally.

In line with previous surveys, order books for contractors employing more than 300 operatives performed less badly than those of the smaller firms, but the gap has narrowed.

All types of workload, with the exception of rail, now have negative balances for order books and the worst results are found in the preliminary works and water sewage sectors.

However, the industry was less pessimistic about the future than it was in the final quarter of 2008. Expectations about workload in the coming 12 months were better and order indicators, whilst still deteriorating, were less negative than at any time since July last year.

“While we hope slowdown in the fall continues, it is too early to speculate on a recovery in 2009,” said CECA Director Rosemary Beales.

“Workload across the sector has been hit very hard in the last year and we have yet to see a significantly positive impact on workload from the Government’s fiscal stimulus package put forward in November 2008.

“Although the recent Budget contained some welcome measures that may boost areas such as energy and housing in 2009/10, it did little for the industry overall. The outlook is not positive for workload up to 2012 and is distinctly bleak beyond it.

“Contractors need greater confidence if they are going to continue to invest in training and technology to meet the demands that will follow the upturn. Whilst we appreciate confidence is in short supply across the economy, the Government must take a new approach to critical national infrastructure and provide clear and consistent forward plans for investment and improvement.

“There may be a limited amount to invest, but what they intend to invest and when should be set out clearly for all to see.”

The Civil Engineering Contractors Association represents over 350 contractors of all sizes, covering approximately
80% of the civil engineering market in Great Britain. 122 contractors of all sizes and locations in the UK participated in the April 2009 Workload Trends Survey.

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