By Marcus Leach

Figures released today (Friday) show that the output of the UK's construction sector dropped sharply in January from a year earlier.

According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS) construction output for the month was down 7.9% compared with January 2012.

The figures suggest the sector is continuing to struggle in the UK's tough economic climate.

Construction accounts for just 7% of the UK economy, but the sector's troubles have been a drag on growth.

“Sadly the momentum of the last quarter of 2012 has not been maintained, and the construction sector risks being recast as the fall guy of the British economy," Steve McGuckin, UK managing director of the global programme management consultancy Turner & Townsend, commented.

“Across all construction sectors, output is down once again, with the fall in infrastructure work particularly worrying. The government’s hopes of the private sector pumping desperately needed money into infrastructure and helping the economy build its way to recovery look further away by the day.

“Q4’s brief uptick in total construction output is starting to look like a blip, possibly boosted by projects put on hold during the Olympics and restarted at the end of the year. Shorn of that temporary boost, January’s figures look much less encouraging.

“But for all that, sentiment is improving. We’ve seen brisk levels of activity at the very front end of the industry, particularly in Scotland and Ireland.

“But the upbeat tone owes more to fatalism than confidence. While noone expects the sector to take off with a hockey stick recovery, there is a growing sense that things have at least bottomed out.

“This pragmatism is finally persuading some developers to stop sitting on their hands and start moving again.

“But progress is clearly going to be slow, and a long road lies ahead.”

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