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CECA: Growth in contractor workloads at lowest level for over three years

Contractors have seen their workloads grow at the slowest pace for three years, according to research from the Civil Engineering Contractors Association.

Only 1 per cent of contractors in the UK, on balance, reported an increase in workloads in Q3, the lowest level recorded since Q2 2013, according to CECA’s Workload Trends survey for Q3 2016.

A balance of 14 per cent of contractors in England saw work increase, but this was offset by a large decline in workloads in Wales, where 27 per cent of contractors reported a decline in work.

Scotland also saw a dip in workloads, with 4 per cent of contractors on balance reporting a fall in activity.

Overall, however, civil engineering firms retained a positive outlook, with a balance of 22 per cent of firms expecting workloads to rise in the next 12 months.

This tallies with findings from the RICS Construction Market Survey for Q3, which suggested that nearly half of surveyors expected workloads to grow over the same period.

The Construction Products Association State of Trade Survey for Q3 also showed that more than half of product manufacturers forecast a rise in sales over the next 12 months.

Only four civil engineering sectors saw an increase in workloads during Q3 – gas (21 per cent), communications (14 per cent), preliminary works (9 per cent) and airports (3 per cent).

However, the increase in gas work follows three consecutive quarters of double-digit decline, with a balance of 75 per cent of contractors reporting a fall in the sector in Q2 this year.

In Q3, harbours and waterways work saw the biggest fall in activity, with a balance of 32 per cent of contractors reporting a decline, marking the fifth consecutive quarter of falling workloads for the sector.

Both local roads work (-27 per cent) and motorways work (-21 per cent) saw a fall in Q3, with both also experiencing a fifth consecutive quarter of declining activity.

Despite this, overall order books were up, with a balance of 3 per cent of contractors reporting a rise in Q3. This was, however, the slowest increase in order book size since Q4 2014.

Growth was slowest in England (9 per cent), while Wales (27 per cent) and Scotland (23 per cent) both saw double-digit increases in order book size in Q3.

In the next 12 months, a quarter of firms expected to increase their employment, particularly in England, where over half of firms said they would increase their workforce over the next year.

Firms in Scotland, however, expected to decrease their workforce in the next 12 months.

Over half of firms reported that costs were growing at the same rate compared with 12 months ago, while no contractors reported that costs had fallen in the past year.

Tender prices also continued to rise in Scotland, with two-thirds of firms reporting an increase in tender costs.

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