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The number of specialist contractors benefiting from increased tender prices is at its highest for eight years but lack of skilled labour and late payment continue to hinder progress according to the latest National Specialist Contractors Council (NSCC) State of Trade Survey.

Figures for the fourth quarter of 2014 show that 44% of specialist contractors have increased tender prices compared to just 11% who decreased prices in the same period. The balance of tender prices, which is the difference between respondents reporting an increase and a decrease in prices, is the highest since the pre-recession days of late 2006. This has been driven by a combination of increased demand and the rising cost of materials, with 82% of specialist contractors reporting an increase in suppliers’ prices in the last quarter.

Eight out of 10 specialist contractors report working at over 75% capacity with almost half at over 90% capacity. Capacity levels look set to be maintained over the next year with more than half of respondents anticipating that their workload will increase during this period.

NSCC warn that continued growth within the industry could be undermined by skills shortages with 43% of specialist contractors reporting more difficulty in recruiting skilled labour in the last quarter. The balance of recruitment difficulty remains at its highest level for 10 years.

Late payment also remains an issue with 20% waiting on average more than 60 days to get paid.

Suzannah Nichol, NSCC chief executive, said: “Increasing workloads and higher tender prices are both good news for specialist contractors but the difficulty in recruiting skilled labour is a reflection of the skills crisis facing the industry. The only way to ensure continued growth in our sector is by sustained investment in training and apprenticeships.”