There has been a sharp decline in workloads, enquiries, and employment, amongst small building companies with 40% of FMB builders reporting a decrease in the number of work enquiries according to the latest State of Trade Survey from the Federation of Master Builders (FMB).

The good news is that the repair, maintenance and improvement (RMI) sector continues to remain buoyant with most FMB members reporting increased workloads.

Brian Berry, Chief Executive of the FMB, said:

“The RMI sector remains fairly strong this quarter with more FMB members still seeing an increase in workload than a decrease, but worrying signs are on the horizon with a sharp drop off in enquiries.”

Berry continued: “House building continues to struggle with more members reporting less workloads than there are reporting more. There has also been a sustained decline in enquiries, suggesting the picture will continue to worsen. Housing is rising up the political agenda as evidenced at the recent party conferences and this new data highlights why the Government should be concerned at a time when we need to be building more, and not fewer, new homes.”

Berry concluded: “The survey also highlights the continued pressure on bottom lines, with members putting up prices to accommodate for economic adversity and inflationary pressures. Worryingly we’re also seeing over half of small building companies falling below their expected margins. As the Autumn Statement approaches the Chancellor needs to be mindful of steadying a fragile housing market.”

The latest survey for Q3 2023 found:

Market conditions

  • There has been a decrease in total workload, enquires and employment over Q3 of 2023, seemingly driven by a poor performing housebuilding and industrial and commercial sectors.
  • 40% of FMB members reported a decrease in enquiries.
  • RMI reported workloads remain positive, but have dropped off since Q2 2023.


  • Overall, difficulty in recruitment has slightly increased.
  • 39% of members are struggling to hire carpenters with 35% struggling to hire bricklayers.
  • There has been a sharp upturn in difficulty hiring general labourers, with 34% reporting problems (up from 25% in Q2)
  • Half of FMB members report that jobs are delayed because they are struggling to hire skilled workers.

Impact of changes in prices and costs

  • 71% of members report that material costs increased in Q3 2023 with 55% expecting this to continue into the next quarter, which is an improvement on previous quarters.
  • The impact of increased outgoings has led to 71% of members increasing the prices they charge, with half reporting that the business in on track to make a loss or fall below expected margins.
  • Over a quarter report that they are restricting hiring new staff as a consequence of increased outgoings.

The FMB State of Trade Survey, which is released quarterly, is the longest running survey of its kind to track the experience of small to medium-sized (SME) construction firms in the UK.

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