Self-isolating drivers, price inflations and uncertainty regarding deliveries are all exacerbating the ongoing construction material shortages, warn industry leaders
In the latest statement from the Construction Leadership Council’s Product Availability working group, leaders warned that the ‘basic trends of the last six months remain’ with regards to the building materials shortage.
John Newcomb, CEO of the Builders Merchants Federation and Peter Caplehorn, CEO of the Construction Products Association, outlined the current issues.
They said: “The basic trends of the last six months remain, with global demand far in excess of supply leading to product shortages, rapid and sustained price inflation, long lead times and uncertainty regarding deliveries.
“It is also clear that the global shipping industry is far from recovered from the disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic, with congested shipping routes, container cancellations and higher costs still evident.”
Housebuilding and repair/maintenance products most affected
The statement, said: “The products most affected are those used in housebuilding and domestic repair maintenance and improvement (RMI), including roofing products, timber, insulation, landscaping products, blocks, sealants/PVA, PIR Insulation, kitchen carcassing and products that use plastic, e.g. drainage, some windows and bagged cement.
“Bagged cement is particularly hard hit due to ongoing unprecedented demand but both bagged and bulk cement are on allocation; there are regional variations to this with some areas affected more than others. All UK kilns are operating but it may be a while before stocks return to normal. With high demand continuing, extended delivery times are expected to remain until the end of the year.
“The high level of housing starts has caused a bow wave of demand for plastic pipes for groundworks and drainage. Some manufacturers are currently on allocation, but the expectation is that supply issues will be resolved by the end of Q3.
“Demand for wood and wood products remains very strong and timber supply will continue to tighten into Q3, following the Scandinavian holiday and maintenance season in July, continuing the upward pressure on prices. There are some indications that the situation may start to improve after this as global demand is beginning to ease.
“Within infrastructure and commercial construction, steel and aluminium are both experiencing significant supply disruption and price inflation.
“There is also concern around the availability of steel cabling management systems which could continue into early 2022 and engineering services business are advised to plan ahead.
“Overall, prices for products and materials have increased by a reported 10-15%, consistent with the Office of National Statistics figure for May of 10.2% overall with 12.8% for those most commonly used in RMI. Specific products, especially timber, has seen increases of 20-50% for most products and over 100% for OSB and other sheet materials.
“For the first time we have had reports that some merchants are destocking certain products that are no longer economic.”
‘Labour shortages exacerbated by non-symptomatic workers’
They added: “Labour, or rather the lack of it, is a rising concern. All regions report hauliers/HGV/LGV drivers are in short supply and very difficult to recruit, which is contributing to longer delivery times particularly away from major transport routes and urban areas.
“We continue to support the Road Haulage Association in its discussions with the Department of Transport to address the shortage.
“We are now receiving reports of other vacancies being hard to fill, from relatively unskilled roles, such as yard operatives, to experienced bricklayers.
“These labour shortages are being exacerbated by the growing number of non-symptomatic drivers, tradespeople, merchant and manufacturing staff required to self-isolate after coming into contact with someone who tested positive for Covid-19. This will further stretch the supply chain.”
Sales of building materials continued their upward growth trend during Q1 2021, as the boom in construction activity offers a helping hand
Q1 2021 building materials sales volumes continued the upward trend seen in Q4 2020, and compared well with the pre-Covid levels seen in Q1 2019, according to the latest report from the BMF’s Builders Merchants Building Index (BMBI).
Looking at Q1 2021 in detail, January was down -3.7% on the same month the previous year, with February seeing annual growth of 2.3%. March however was a record month for the industry, with building materials sales increasing by 47.4% against March 2020 and by 23.0% against March 2019.
This results in overall Q1 growth of 15.1% against Q1 2020 and 6.0% against Q1 2019.
The figures also confirm overall growth of 8.6% against Q4 2020.
Q1 2021 vs Q1 2020
The strongest year on year performers for building materials sales were landscaping, up by 41.4% on Q1 2020, and timber & joinery (+30.5%).
Sales of tools increased by 15.9% year on year, and were also up for the largest product group, heavy building materials sales rose by 10.3% and plumbing, heating and electrical products increased by 3.7%.
Workwear and safetywear (-8.9%), one of the strongest performers a year ago when PPE was in great demand, was one of only four categories to record a fall in year on year sales for the quarter.
‘A boom in activity’
John Newcomb, CEO of the Builders Merchants Federation, said: “The first three months of the year may have seen the country once again in lockdown but even this could not prevent a boom in construction activity.
“This is an excellent start to the year and we are already seeing strong product demand in many areas, notably timber which has been one of the main drivers for growth during the quarter.
“Managing product demand and supply will be a recurring theme this year and the Construction Leadership Council, product availability group, which I co-chair, is issuing monthly updates to assist with forward planning.”
Emile van der Ryst, senior client insight manager of trade at GfK, added: “To say the first quarter, and March in particular, has gone well is an understatement.
“It was not only the big hitters such as timber, bricks, aggregates, insulation, cement and plasterboard reporting record sales, but also areas such as tool hire, plumbing equipment, power tools, hand tools, boilers, tanks and boiler accessories.
“Repair, maintenance and improvement is expected to be the main driver during the first half of the year, and quite possibly beyond, which bodes well for the industry if supply can keep up with demand.”