"There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics". The oft-quoted phrase describes the persuasive power of numbers to bolster a weak argument.
In the last few weeks two conflicting sets of statistics have been released about the construction sector.
First out was the Purchasing Managers Index (PMI). The index, which measures new business and employment levels in the construction sector, came in at 55.8 - any figure over 50 demonstrates growth in the sector.
In contrast, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) claimed construction output had contracted by 4.8 per cent in the first three months of this year, helping to push the economy into recession and double-dip.
Both surveys are closely watched economic indicators, so which one is out-of-step?
Experience tells me the truth lies somewhere in between.
To arrive at its headline figure, the ONS needs to average out the performance of different sectors of the industry. Infrastructure took the biggest hit, down 15.9 per cent on the previous quarter.
This comes as no surprise, given the cuts in public spending. However, there is clearly a disconnect. Commonsense tells you that other sectors are starting to see an upturn - how else would the ONS arrive at the 4.8 per cent average?
What's more, the infrastructure sector is notoriously lumpy, so it's performance in the first quarter is likely to be a blip, particularly as it is frequently citied as the industry's most promising sector, with 40 major government-backed schemes, including HS2, in the pipeline.
The health and education sectors have seen budget cuts, but both have unfit stock so spend will continue.
Building the facilities for the forthcoming Olympic games provided a lifeline for the sector. This has obviously come to an end and may have scewed the figures.
Howard Archer, chief economist at IHS Global Insight, said: "... all construction data and surveys have to be taken with a considerable dose of salt at the moment, as there are major discrepancies between what the surveys are indicating and what the hard data are showing."
I would agree with that, but my senses tell me that even for those who have prospered during the recession, there is no longer anywhere to hide. Up until this year, many contractors benefited from work volumes procured over the last few years. Now, with falling work volumes and acute margin pressures, the sector is starting to feel the full impact of the cut-backs.
So how do we stop the decline?
Although it is intent on cutting the deficit, the government can do other things to get Britain building.
Firstly, it could re-prioritise spending. For example, infrastructure projects take a long time to come to fruition. Investment in housing, or repairs and maintenance, would benefit builders in the shorter term.
Clarity and quicker decision making would also help, particularly in the education and PFI arenas.
New ways of financing projects are urgently needed to get them off the drawing board. The government's triple A credit rating could help it to underwrite some of the risk of projects, freeing the banks to chip in.
Stimulating the housing sector can also be done without spending money. Stamp duty breaks and tax breaks for homes that are more energy efficient might be a start.