CECA findings reveal order books slump

Civil contractors suggest that the current economic downturn is slowing even though total order books continue to decline, a new Civil Engineering Contractors Association (CECA) survey has revealed.

CECA's findings are backed up by the monthly Construction Purchasing Managers' Index, which said the construction sector is still in decline but is showing signs of easing.

According to CECA's Workload Trends Survey, each successive quarter since July 2008 recorded "progressively weaker results". However, less negative results in Scotland and Wales meant that Q1 2009 reported a slight slowdown in the rate of that decline. Results in England deteriorated marginally.

The survey finds that all types of workload, excluding rail, have negative balances for order books and the worst results are in the preliminary works and water and sewage sectors.

Order books for the water and sewerage sector were up 5% in April 2008. However, the figure was -59% in April 2009. The least-affected sectors are harbours and railway.

CECA director Rosemary Beales warned against optimism in the construction sector, saying: "While we hope slowdown in the fall continues, it is too early to speculate on a recovery in 2009. Workload across the [construction] sector has been hit hard and we have yet to see a significantly positive impact on workload from the government's fiscal stimulus package put forward in November 2008."

Beales added: "Contractors need greater confidence if they are going 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 provide clear and consistent forward plans for investment and improvement."

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