SCOTTISH construction firm Cruden Building & Renewals said 2016 would be a year of growth for the sector – despite a deeper than expected fall in numbers for the industry across the UK last month.

In a sign that construction activity was slowing ahead of next month's EU referendum, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said output fell 3.6 per cent in March, compared with the month before. This was due to declines in the amount of new work being carried out as well as repair and maintenance activity. Economists had forecast a slide of 3.2 per cent.

But Cambuslang-based Cruden, which specialises in social housing, said the latest figures did not match with its own experiences over recent months. The company, which employs more than 300 people and made pre-tax profits of £2.7 million on turnover of £76m in 2015, urged employers to continue investing in skills.

“Housebuilding continues to drive sector growth, supporting Scotland’s economy in the process,” said managing director Allan Callaghan. “To ensure that this continues to be the case, it’s imperative we maintain a steady flow of skilled and talented workers.”

Cruden said it trained around 50 young apprentices a year and would start its next intake of ten to its training schemes in the next few weeks. “It is up to the entire construction sector to readdress the imbalance caused by ongoing skills shortages. Failure to do so will only harm future growth, setting the industry back years as a result," Mr Callaghan said.

Over the first three months of the year, the ONS revised down its earlier estimate of a 0.9 per cent fall in construction to 1.1 per cent compared with the previous quarter, dragged down falls in infrastructure work and despite growth among housebuilders.