The current demand for materials far outstrips the supply and the situation has been made worse by several factors such as Brexit, the Covid-19 pandemic and the Suez Canal blockage that lasted for a week.
The materials that do make it thought to the UK are being absorbed into major projects such as HS2, which is leaving a shortage for other works that are currently active around the UK. The materials shortage is now considered to be the top risk to the recovery of the UK construction industry, overtaking the lack of skilled worker shortage which used to be considered as the biggest threat to recovery.
The West Midlands is suffering more acutely from the shortage with major projects such as the construction of new train stations for high-speed rail and hosting facilities for the Commonwealth games in 2022. Birmingham is also a city with significant housing building activity.
Hudson Contract, a payroll firm that works with more than 2,500 construction companies across the UK in providing payroll services to manage the wages of 30,000 employees is hearing many reports from their network. Ian Anfield, Managing Director said: “Our clients are reporting serious shortages in construction products on the ground. In the West Midlands, some are saying their projects are now on ‘tick over’ because materials are being creamed off by HS2.
“The government is proceeding with mega-projects and pushing forward shovel-ready schemes to ‘build back better’, the housing market is overheated due to the stamp duty holiday and demand for lumber is soaring around the world.
He added: “We need radical solutions to address these problems, starting with a drive to promote local and regional supply chains in procurement. This will benefit our domestic manufacturing industries for steel and construction products and create skilled jobs in left-behind communities across the country.
“At the moment, the UK is simply outsourcing carbon emissions to other parts of the world and this over-reliance on imports has made us hostage to events beyond our control.
“Local authorities should ditch large framework agreements with the main contractors and implement ‘buy local’ policies to build up local businesses and their suppliers. And instead of vilifying the self-employed, the construction industry establishment should champion these small-business owners as they are most likely to spend money in their local areas and generate meaningful training opportunities for young people.”
Encouragingly, Hudson’s latest pay trends survey shows that self-employed traders have reported earning the highest revenue since the start of the pandemic.