Just 5 per cent of specialist contractors report being paid within 30 days, according to the latest State of Trade Survey from the National Specialist Contractors’ Council.
Late payment continues to be ranked as the one of the most important issues affecting specialists, with 76 per cent of respondents reporting that they were paid in between 30 and 60 days.
In addition, just 61 per cent of specialists who had completed work in the public sector reported being paid within 30 days, despite this now being a contractual requirement on all central government contracts.
The Association of Ductwork Contractors and Allied Services said that late payment is “an absolute killer” and means that “cash flow is always critical” despite a good work load.
Retentions are also a problem, with 79 per cent of respondents stating that they have had retention monies withheld and that 29 per cent of these are overdue for release.
However, in spite of the continuing concerns over payment, specialist contractors have reported a generally positive outlook for the year ahead.
One respondent, the British Drilling Association, reported seeing “tangible signs of more confidence in the industry”, with 60 per cent of respondents anticipating an increased workload in 2014. Expansion in the next quarter is expected for 34 per cent of respondents, while 33 per cent intend to take on more employees, a six-year high.
Some may struggle to find the right employees to sustain this growth, though, as 26 per cent of respondents stated that they are finding it more difficult to find the right candidates for specialist work. In contrast, only 7 per cent reported finding it less difficult. This 19-point gap is the biggest since Q2 2007.
More respondents reported increasing margins and tender prices, and 71 per cent reported increased suppliers’ prices, up from 57 per cent in the previous quarter.
NSCC chief executive Suzannah Nichol said: “Given the improved outlook for specialist contractors, it is more important than ever that we safeguard the long-term growth of the industry by investing in our workforce and ensuring fair payment practices are implemented throughout the supply chain.”