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UK construction sector stagnates as interest rates bite - survey

Workers stand on scaffolding at a residential building in London

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain's construction sector stagnated at the end of last year with home-building particularly hard hit in the face of rising borrowing costs, a survey showed on Thursday.

The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) said the industry's net workloads balance dropped to -1% in the fourth quarter from +17% and +30% in the previous two quarters.

RICS Chief Economist Simon Rubinsohn said the outlook remained relatively resilient with housing workloads only expected to slow modestly over the next year, and major energy and transport projects were supporting infrastructure.

"Significantly, the industry is continuing to grapple with the challenge around finding adequate supplies of skilled labour, both at a professional and trades level," Rubinsohn said.

"Addressing this issue will be critical in enabling the sector to play a comprehensive role in supporting the economy as it emerges from the current downturn."

Employers across the economy are struggling to fill vacancies after a drop in the size of the country's workforce which has been attributed to factors including the coronavirus pandemic and Brexit.

Britain's property market boomed during the COVID pandemic, helped by a tax cut for home buyers as well as demand for larger homes. But it has cooled as interest rates rise to head off high inflation and the economy is widely seen to be in a recession.

Last week, a survey showed construction activity fell in December at its sharpest rate since May 2020.

(Writing by William Schomberg; editing by David Milliken)