In the three months to December, builders’ workloads fell into negative territory with around 21 per cent of firms reporting lower workloads, five per cent higher than the previous quarter. Expectations for the future were optimistic in Q4, however, with 37 per cent of builders predicting higher workloads over the coming three months.
Northern Ireland was the only home nation to see an increase in workloads and enquiries.
Builders said they thought material and wage costs were likely to rise over the coming six months.
Meanwhile, employment activity moved back into positive territory for the first time since Q1 2019 with 19 per cent of builders reporting an increase in staffing levels.
The FMB’s State of Trade quarterly survey is carried out by small and medium sized building firms that typically employ ten people or less.
Chief Executive of the FMB Brian Berry said: “The end of 2019 was a very turbulent period in the UK, both politically and economically, with Brexit gridlock and a general election.
“When you consider this, along with the bad weather we saw in October, it is not surprising that the order books of small and medium-sized construction firms took a hit. We know that many consumers were holding off making important spending decisions until the outcome of the General Election was known and this took its toll on workloads.
“We are yet to see if there has been a so called ‘Boris bounce’ yet, following the election result, but there are some positive signs. For example, employment levels amongst SMEs have returned to positive ground for the first time since the start of 2019. This of course, brings with it concerns around skills shortages, and SMEs continue to struggle to hire key trades such as bricklayers and carpenters.”
Berry sees the Budget as a “perfect opportunity” for the government to restore some confidence back into the construction industry. He said there will need to be radical policies that help the housebuilders deliver the 300,000 new homes annual target and reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050.