The New Year is off to the most optimistic start in recent memory, with everyone from Chancellor George Osborne to UK exporters feeling increasingly bullish about the UK’s economic prospects. Now the National Specialist Contractors Council – the body representing skilled contractors in the construction industry – has added its voice to the growing chorus.

The NSCC’s State of Trade survey, released yesterday, shows that almost two thirds (60%) of contractors in the sector are expecting an increased workload in 2014, claiming to see “tangible signs of more confidence in the industry.”

Government schemes such as Help to Buy, which recently buoyed the housebuilding market, will no-doubt be helping the construction industry, and large public infrastructure projects such as Crossrail and HS2 continue to employ large swathes of skilled tradesmen.

Of the contractors surveyed, 34% intend to expand their business this year and 33% anticipate taking on more employees.

The growing confidence within the industry may even be creating a skills shortage – just over a quarter (26%) of respondents reported they were struggling to find qualified candidates. This figure is the highest it has been since 2007, shortly before the financial crisis began.

It’s not all good news though – late payment remains as much a problem for contractors as for other industries, with 76% of those surveyed claiming payments took up to 60 days.

Chief Executive of the NSCC Suzannah Nichol commented:

“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.”