A FAMILY-OWNED building firm has defied gloomy predictions for the construction industry by winning two multi-million pound deals.

J and RM Richardson, which was established in Darlington 26 years ago, has been called on to build factories in Newton Aycliffe and Peterlee, County Durham, which will keep the firm’s 30-strong workforce busy for at least another eight months.

The work, worth a combined £3.5m, is a major coup for the company, launched after managing director John Richardson and his wife, Ruth, received £80 enterprise allowance payments from the Manpower Services Commission.

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Its projects in Darlington include the headquarters of Northgate Vehicle Hire, which was opened by former Prime Minister Tony Blair, and the refurbishment of the NHS Regional Records Office.

It has worked on major projects for customers across the region, including Teesside Transport and Training in Middlesbrough, 3M, in Newton Aycliffe, and NSK Bearings, of Peterlee.

“There is no denying these are challenging times for many firms in the industry, so we are delighted to have got this work, which will keep us busy for the months ahead,”

said Mr Richardson. “It’s all about building up personal contacts and trust which, hopefully, gives us an edge and we have great staff so we know that when we say we can do something we do it.”

His comments came as a report warned that a third of building firms could be forced to axe workers in response to a slump in demand.

The Federation of Master Builders (FMB) State of Trade Survey is regarded as a bellwether of small contractors, which are battling a perfect storm of government spending cuts, plummeting confidence and a slowdown in the housing market.

About 30 per cent of firms said they expected to reduce staff numbers in the first half of the year.

Brian Berry, the FMB’s chief executive, warned that the construction industry is on a knife-edge after the report showed employment fell again during the last quarter of last year and small builders predict more of the same this year. Workloads also dropped last year and the decline is expected to continue for the first half of this year.

Mr Berry said: “The Government’s support for infrastructure spending is good but it needs to look at ways it can boost the building industry, not least the urgent need to build more new homes by freeing up land, easing planning red tape and by pushing investment through its new Business Bank.

“A VAT cut on building work to make homes more energy- efficient would also help provide an immediate boost for small builders and have the multiple benefits of boosting the economy, helping householders save money on their fuel bills and reducing carbon emission “Our members are perhaps more adaptable and resilient than some larger construction companies that rely heavily on major house-building or big infrastructure projects, but if the Government does not act swiftly and decisively to support small and mediumsized builders – the backbone of the British construction industry – then we will undoubtedly see more firms going to the wall and job losses across the board.”

On Monday, it emerged that Najem Al Hasan, president of the FMB in Scotland, had stepped down from his post after his firm, Scotia Construction, went bust.