The Northern Ireland construction industry showed a sharp improvement in the first quarter of the year, well ahead of other regions in the UK, according to a new survey.
Federation of Master Builders' (FMB) State of Trade Survey revealed that workload, expected workload and inquiries all improved significantly compared to the last quarter of 2013.
Its composite index, which combines feedback from builders on all three factors, had a net balance of -1% in Northern Ireland compared to a balance of -26% in the province in the final quarter of 2012. The FMB said that signifies a substantial improvement in outlook for Northern Ireland's builders. In England, the figure was -16, and -20% in Scotland.
However, Welsh firms also showed signs of encouragement having reported a net improvement of +1% in the first part of 2013.
Maire Nawaz (right), director of the FMB in Northern Ireland, said: "These figures mirror what I have been hearing on the ground in the past few months. There is finally some optimism in the air, long overdue after more than five years of unmitigated struggle for construction SMEs."
In the final quarter of 2012, around a third of FMB member firms warned they may have to lay off workers, and those fears were borne out by the latest figures, which showed that 30% of firms across the UK had indeed shed staff. Around 26% of firms did however anticipate that workloads may pick up in the next few months, adding further cause for optimism that the picture is beginning to brighten, especially in Northern Ireland.
Ms Nawaz continued: "The construction industry in Northern Ireland is starting to move in the right direction. To ensure the sector continues to improve, the Northern Ireland Executive needs to continue to support the sector by investing in capital infrastructure, getting projects off the ground, and support lending to the SME construction sector."
Ms Nawaz added: "The FMB welcomes the Housing Strategy for Northern Ireland and supports the long-term strategic vision for housing in the province.
"Construction is a key driver of local job creation, as it is so labour-intensive – 40% more so than manufacturing and 75% more than business services or finance – and creates jobs for all skill levels, from manual workers to architects and engineers. It is imperative the housing strategy is implemented effectively, as this can deliver growth."