The latest quarterly Workload Trends survey published by the Civil Engineering Contractors Association shows firms employing more than 600 people are being hit hard.
The survey shows 79 per cent of the industry’s biggest players reporting falling workloads. The figures contrast sharply with the early days of the downturn when SME contractors were those most affected by declining work.
Across the board, the April survey found that workloads were lower for 67 per cent of firms compared with the same period 12 months ago.Just eight per cent had seen their workloads rise over the last year.
The -59 per cent balance between those companies reporting falling workloads and those reporting increasing workloads is a significant improvement on the low of -77 per cent seen in January 2010, but it still represents extremely challenging trading for contractors, with work opportunities thin on the ground.
The breakdown by sector revealed a dark picture with negative workload reports for almost all areas of work.
The figures include water (balance between those reporting increasing workloads versus those reporting falling workloads = -63 per cent), electricity (-53 per cent) and local roads (-50 per cent). Only communications showed any growth, and even here the balance was just +1 per cent.
Employment was also lower for most firms than in April 2009. 52 per cent of companies reported lower employment of operatives than 12 months ago against just nine per cent reporting rises, while staff numbers were down at 40 per cent of firms, with only 11 per cent employing more staff than a year ago.
The companies surveyed also reported that their order books had dwindled, with 58 per cent reporting falling orders compared with 19 per cent saying orders have increased.
CECA members have reported a further decline in their expectations for future workload with 48 per cent of firms expecting their work levels in the year to come to drop, while only 5 per cent expect increased work over the coming 12 months.
At -43 per cent, the balance between the two figures is more negative than at any time since the start of the UK economic downturn.
CECA National Director Rosemary Beales said: “The UK civil engineering sector has entered its second consecutive year of declining orders. The industry will be aware that the Government is running the rule over all areas of public sector spending, with a real danger that cuts mean the situation gets worse before it gets better.
“Given the manifesto commitments made by the Conservative Party and the subsequent coalition agreement, any cuts should come as no surprise. Whilst we are pleased the Government intends to provide the country with early direction on our economic future, history tells us that cuts to budgets for maintenance and renewal of the UK’s vital infrastructure networks may lead to bigger bills further down the line, as avoidable problems are left to fester.
“The UK faces huge challenges in the coming decade, particularly in keeping the country moving and keeping the lights on. Government must balance the need to reduce the deficit with the need to invest in infrastructure, which will play a key role in the delivery of a sustainable, low carbon economic recovery.”