The Federation of Master Builders (FMB) state of trade survey for Q4 2023 found a 15% fall in workloads across its membership of SME building companies.
The survey also found that while recruitment difficulties had eased slightly, 36% of members are still struggling to hire carpenters with 34% struggling to hire bricklayers
However, more than a quarter of members reported a decrease in the number of their employees and one in five have brought in hiring restrictions.
Chief executive Brian Berry said: “2023 was undoubtedly a difficult year for small building companies with falling enquiries and workloads starting to drop. Significantly, conditions for the repair, maintenance and improvement (RMI) sector, which had been the main driver for construction output, worsened for the first time.
“The good news from our survey is the reported easing of material price rises with fewer master builder companies having to increase their prices for building work. However, with house building rates continuing to remain low and the recent fall in RMI activity an alarming downward trend is emerging for small builders, which will need to be addressed in the upcoming budget.”
Brian Berry concluded: “As we head towards the general election, housing is increasingly becoming one of the major issues which will decide the outcome. With workloads and enquiries down, recruitment declining, and costs remaining high, the FMB survey is clear evidence that with the chancellor set to announce his latest budget in March, there is substantial need to reduce barriers to construction and provide financial support to SME construction firms facing tough economic conditions.”