Specialist contractors fear bleak winter ahead

Specialist contractors face a difficult winter period as order levels slow down in the run-up to Christmas, according to the latest National Specialist Contractors’ Council (NSCC) survey.

The results for the third quarter of 2012 show a significant fall in the number of orders as the predicted knock-on effect from the low number of enquiries received in the previous quarter was realised.

The NSCC brings together the common aims of 29 specialist trade organisations within the wider construction industry — including catering equipment body CEDA — and represents the voice of 7,000 UK contractors, from flooring specialist to ductwork contractors.

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The latest survey reveals that 44% of respondents saw a decrease in orders this quarter, up from 32% last quarter.

29% of specialist contractors are anticipating a decrease in workload in the next quarter as the traditional Christmas slowdown occurs, with just 11% considering any business expansion over the same period, down from 27% last quarter.

The medium term outlook into 2013 appears to be more positive with 35% of specialist contractors expecting an increase in workload and 27% looking to expand their businesses over the next 12 months.

NSCC chief executive, Suzannah Nichol, said: “This time of year is often a struggle for the industry as work tails off in the run up to Christmas but the next few months look set to be particularly tough. We are hopeful the recommendations for a national growth strategy outlined in the recent Heseltine Report will help to unlock work in the construction sector and NSCC will continue to provide its members with the guidance and support they need.”

Late payment is still the most important issue affecting specialist contractors and the situation traditionally worsens at this time of year as a number of contractors refuse to pay their supply chains in December.

The NSCC insists specialist contractors should always check the contract payment schedule to ensure a December payment is included and then take action if payment is withheld.

The good news, according to the association, is that payment practices are improving in the public sector with the number of specialist contractors receiving payment within 30 days on all their public sector projects increasing by 15% since the government made 30-day payment a contractual requirement on central government contracts in December 2010.

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