Since the coronavirus pandemic started last year, many of you have told us you have found it difficult to buy the building materials you need. Master Builder companies across the country haven’t been able to rely on turning up at their local merchants and being sure that they will have a particular product in stock.

Some building materials have been put on allocation, in other cases, prices are on the rise. We know that this is making it hard to accurately prepare for and price your jobs.

Latest update 20 May 2021: We know that the difficulties accessing building materials are getting worse, and that cement is proving particularly problematic right now. At the latest meeting of the Construction Leadership Council’s Product Availability Group, which met on 19 May 2021, we discussed the critical impact this is having on Master Builders companies with representatives from the manufacturers, merchants and Government. 

We are calling on the manufacturers to keep supplies flowing to the merchants, to ensure long-term support for small firms. However, with record demand across the whole construction sector, the situation may not ease for a few months. We recognise the urgency of the situation and will keep you updated. Please get in touch to share your experiences.

Update on product availability

We asked the Construction Products Association (CPA) and the Builders Merchants Federation (BMF) to provide an update on product availability in the UK, and some context for the shortages.

The CPA and BMF told us:

  • Timber – Globally, people’s demand for timber products is much higher than the rate at which it is being produced. Demand is particularly high in China and the US, and these countries are prepared to pay more to get their hands on the products. This leaves less to go around for other countries. Production in Europe in 2020 was far lower than the previous year, as saw mills shut down due to Covid. Back at full capacity now, planned shutdowns this summer might mean higher prices into the autumn.
  • Steel – A similar picture to timber, with order backlogs and increased prices for most steel products including coiled, sheet, stainless steel and reinforced bar. For the first time in over a decade, China is importing more steel than it exports. That might impact prices for the next few months. Short term issues at the UK border due to Covid test requirements are also affecting availability. Brexit is not proving to be a major issue here, with quotas on steel from the EU still open and with spare capacity.
  • PIR/PUR Insulation – Producers of these products are experiencing historically high prices for several of the raw materials they need, leading to shortages expected to continue until the summer. It is possible that demand for high quality insulation products will continue as more people want to do their bit to reach the UK’s net zero carbon target.
  • Roofing – Covid has hit the production of concrete tiles, and demand in the UK is also very high at the moment. That has led to extended lead times, averaging 19-20 weeks. Demand for clay tiles is also rising, as some builders and customers are making the switch. The situation is likely to ease by the end of spring. Lead times for BS timber battens are up to 12 weeks, for reason given in timber (above).

You can read the latest full Construction Product Availability Statement on the CLC website.

The Timber Trade Federation, which is the body that represents more than four-fifths of the wood supplied and traded in the UK, provides a market update on current timber supply and demand issues in Britain.

Member resources

  • We have produced a template letter for members to share with clients to provide them with independent information about the situation. This letter includes a recommendation for building firms to include a ‘change clause’ in contracts to account for changes to the time, price, or materials. 
  • Download FMB contract templates for domestic building work, which have been updated to incorporate such a change clause. 
  • Access more information in our blog Fine print flexibility: The importance of adaptability in construction contracts, which covers tips on managing changes to projects through contracts and quoting. 

Further information

The CPA and BMF co-chair the Construction Leadership Council’s Product Availability Group, which brings together manufacturers, merchants and builders. 

The FMB’s National President, Jan Etchells, is part of CLC’s Product Availability Group, along with some other FMB board members. It’s an opportunity to make the case right at the door of the merchants and manufacturers, and what you tell us is fed into the group’s work.

Please keep sharing your experiences with the FMB, either via your Hub Director, Area Board, the FMB’s Facebook group, or by emailing [email protected].

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