A third of firms quizzed for a new report by pre-qualification register Constructionline said competition from larger companies is the biggest challenge local contractors face in tender competitions.
Late payment is still a blight on the industry with 56% of the 1,300 firms quizzed saying invoices took even later to settle during the last year.
A third also rated winning work and finding opportunities as the biggest obstacles to their future success.
On a more positive note, 74% had not seen any of their projects cancelled in the past three months while 60% have secured most of their recent project wins from the private sector.
When acting as sub-contractors, 56% had seen payment times lengthen in the past 12 months, with 34% having been asked for rebates, and 41% have seen increased retention periods.
But of those acting as principal contractors only 40% had seen payment times increase, 26% asked for rebates and 27% suffered longer retention periods.
Constructionline director Philip Prince said: “SMEs are the backbone of UK construction so their survival is critical to the industry’s long term health.
“Stricter rules on payment times, especially to protect subcontractors, would give a huge helping hand to the thousands of firms for whom cash is king.”