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Industry accused of complacency towards the economic recovery

Many construction firms are badly placed to take advantage of a recovery when it starts, according to a report by accountants Grant Thornton.

It found that the general response from construction firms to suffering large drops in revenue during the recession has been to cut costs and staff levels.

All 60 respondents surveyed - all senior executives of property and construction companies - said their business models had proved resilient through the downturn.

Head of global property and construction Clare Hartnell said: “A key finding of the research indicates a lack of urgency, even complacency, among two-thirds of respondents when faced with the need to change the ways they do business.

“Most property and construction businesses surveyed turned to cost cutting at the outset of the recession, and only a small percentage appear to have taken opportunities to better position themselves as the upturn comes.”

However, while more than half of construction executives said cost structure would remain a primary focus over the next 18 months, many pointed to changes in strategy as well.

Six in 10 said they would review their target markets to take advantages of partnering opportunities with the public sector.

Barratt Developments chief executive Mark Clare said: “In the boom years we could maintain volumes by ourselves. Now we are looking to partnerships with local authorities that already have land for development.

“This massively reduces the costs for us and mixed developments, combining private and social housing, can increase build volumes.”
Leadbitter chief executive Bob Rendell said: “Smart businesses are always adapting to suit the business conditions. It’s an everyday part of what we do.”

Almost half of those surveyed said they expected to see a full economic recovery in 18 months, while 70 per cent said the construction sector would recover over the same timeframe.