Building trade sees uneven recovery

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The Independent Online

The building industry is showing "tentative signs" of recovery, according to the latest survey of sentiment by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (Rics).

Workloads in the first three months of this year turned positive, says the Rics, the first time this has happened since the recession. Construction accounts for only 6 per cent of GDP, but such has been its slump that it has badly depressed the economy as a whole.

Now a net 5 per cent of surveyors say that activity is improving rather than declining, especially in the South. The latest reading compares with a negative 12 per cent figure seen in the last quarter of 2009. Moreover, the figure has been negative for seven successive quarters.

However, the headline figure disguises a marked divergence both within the building trade and geographically. Private commercial and housing activity has turned the corner to expansion activity, as has the much smaller public housing sub-sector. But surveyors in the private industrial and infrastructure sectors reported falling workloads. The North, Scotland and Northern Ireland continue to report sharp declines: the Midlands fare better, and the South best. The Rics' findings reflect similar survey evidence from the Chartered Institute of Purchasing and Supply. The general picture is of uneven recovery, with finance constraints still holding back projects.

Simon Rubinsohn, Rics' chief economist, said: "Concerns over likely cuts in public sector capital spending programmes is another factor contributing towards the cautious stance of respondents to the survey."