Nearly half (47%) of all Master Builder companies reported a fall in enquiries for new work at the end of last year leading to a 15% fall in workloads, according to the latest State of Trade Survey from the Federation of Master Builders (FMB), for Q4 2023. 

Gavin McGuire, Northern Ireland Director for the FMB said: “The recent results from the State of Trade survey present the reality that many firms have seen coming. With an unstable economic environment and a non-functioning ruling executive there has been a lack of confidence by clients to invest.”

McGuire continued: “The Construction Industry has been worth some £3 billion annually to NI. With an Executive returning we need to see a focus on investment, instilling confidence in both public and private sector clients to spend.”

McGuire concluded: “The stop start effect of single year budgets and uncertainty does not help this vital sector for the community to flourish as it should. We need the Construction Industry to be able to innovate, invest and plan for the future of the skills needed with a stronger sense of certainty.”

Northern Irish Market Conditions

  • Northern Ireland witnessed a substantial decrease in overall workloads, dropping from 0% in Q3 2023 to -17% in this quarter.
  • There has been a notable decline in enquiries, with a decrease from a net change of 20% to -17% on balance, indicating a challenging picture ahead.

 The report also found across the UK:

 Market conditions

  • There has been a decrease in total workload, enquires and employment over Q4 of 2023, in all sectors being worked on by small builders, including repair, maintenance and improvement. 
  • 47% of FMB members reported a decrease in enquiries.
  • Workloads were down 15% on Q3 2023 in the final quarter of last year.  


  • Overall, difficulty in recruitment has slightly decreased, however over a quarter of members report a decrease in employees.
  • 36% of members are struggling to hire carpenters with 34% struggling to hire bricklayers.
  • Just under half of FMB members report that jobs are delayed because they are struggling to hire skilled workers.

Changes in prices and costs

  • 63% of members report that material costs increased in Q4 2023, down from 71% in Q3.
  • The impact of increased outgoings has led to 66% of members increasing the prices they charge, with just under half reporting that the business in on track to make a loss or fall below expected margins.
  • One in five report that they are restricting hiring new staff as a consequence of increased outgoings.

Notes to editors

The Federation of Master Builders (FMB) is the largest trade association in the UK construction industry representing thousands of firms in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Established in 1941 to protect the interests of small and medium-sized (SME) construction firms, the FMB is independent and non-profit making, lobbying for members’ interests at both the national and local level.

The FMB is a source of knowledge, professional advice and support for its members, providing a range of modern and relevant business building services to help them succeed. The FMB is committed to raising quality in the construction industry and offers a free Find a Builder service to consumers.