An alarming plunge for Britain's builders in February intensified calls for the Bank of England to offer more help to the economy yesterday.
The Chartered Institute of Purchasing & Supply's latest snapshot of the sector – where a score under 50 signals falling activity – sank from 48.7 to 46.8 last month, marking the fastest pace of decline since October 2009.
After a dire showing from manufacturers, more weak signs from Britain's services firms – by far the largest chunk of the economy – today could prompt the Bank's rate-setters to trigger more money-printing this week. It also prompted industry calls for the Chancellor to use the looming Budget to kick-start the building industry.
David Noble, Cips' chief executive, said: "There is barely a crumb of comfort in this month's figures for the construction industry to ease the continued decline in performance. Overall, these figures are disappointing, to say the least, and with little in sight to improve the sector's fortunes, all eyes will be on the Chancellor to do something to prevent further decline in the sector."
The survey revealed that falling commercial building work and a decline in civil engineering more than offset a modest rise in housebuilding. New orders have fallen every month since last June. The activity index has been stuck in negative territory since October, despite figures showing a 0.9 per cent rise for the construction sector in the final quarter of last year.
Alasdair Reisner, the director of external affairs at the Civil Engineering Contractors Association, warned: "The construction sector is fundamental to the Government's recovery strategy, and yet it is currently languishing in an anaemic condition, showing only weak or negative growth.
"If the Chancellor is to achieve his goal of kick-starting growth through infrastructure provision, it is vital that he takes the necessary steps to increase workloads and unblock smaller local infrastructure projects without delay."