Are Construction Material Shortages Set to Continue?

This year has been an obstacle course for many of those in the construction industry. Navigating set
House Builder Guide Section
November 3, 2021

This year has been an obstacle course for many of those in the construction industry. Navigating setbacks due to Covid-19, Brexit, a lack of transport and skilled workers are just part of the myriad other issues that have been a hugely challenging task to overcome.

Material Shortages

The UK is navigating a severe shortage of bricks, steel, adhesives, paints, timber and other essential building materials. Larger construction businesses have been nimble enough to handle these shortages; however, smaller players haven’t been able to cope.

Despite the UK and the EU recently signing a trade deal that addresses certain issues, it did not address the biggest issues facing construction companies: a new certification called UK Conformity Assessed (UKCA).

Any European products coming into the UK for use in construction must be UKCA certified as of January 1, 2022.

The issue is that there are currently only 45. Testing facilities in the UK that are authorised to provide certification. To add to this, not one of these facilities are qualified to certify specialized construction materials, including certain types of glass and adhesives.

With the Brexit regulations coming into play, not only has the rate of imports slowed down significantly but the transportation of the imports has been hindered too.

The September fuel crisis and the limited number of available truck drivers has only delayed the supply chain process even further.

Traditionally, the UK construction industry has relied on migrant labour from Europe, however, due to Covid-19 restrictions and Brexit rules, many of these workers have returned home. The country is now facing a shortage of greater than 100,000 truck drivers, according to a survey conducted by the Road Haulage Association.

Increasing Costs

New government data has revealed that the cost of construction materials was almost a quarter higher in August compared to a year ago.

The average material costs across the sector are 23.5 percent higher than they were in August 2020, according to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). This figure is even higher than the figure reported in July, when material costs were around 20 percent up year on year.

Nick Kelsall, chief executive of ceramic tiles and bathroom products distributor Norcros (NXR), has stated that shipping costs have been possibly the biggest influence on the price inflation. The cost of shipping a 40ft container from China to the UK has increased from $1,500 before the pandemic to a peak of $20,000.

Gareth Belsham, Director of the national property consultancy and surveyors Naismiths, commented: “The perfect storm that had been brewing for several months has finally broken over the construction industry.”

A Glimmer of Hope

UK Brick is incredibly fortunate to have been able to continue operating under such pressing conditions. Despite exhibiting a wide catalogue, all stocks have remained adequate.

Whilst some companies are just about managing in the short term, the industry as a whole would greatly benefit from a more efficient, leaner practise. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs reckon that in 2018, construction accounted for an astonishing 62 percent of the UK’s total waste.

Innovation will be a key factor in surviving a tighter supply chain by providing a means to which companies can precision-engineer homes along production lines using the exact amount of materials required for each build.

Technology will be the driver of such efficiencies as well as minimising waste and reducing environmental impacts.  

With the assistance of Artificial Intelligence, not only will building design be improved but financial planning and project management will be simplified, productivity will be increased, repetitive tasks could be taken over from manual workers as well as improving the safety of manual workers by monitoring for safety hazards, using photos and recognition technology to tell if a worker is wearing the correct PPE or by using geo-location to identify danger areas and alerting workers.

The current lack of availability of skilled labour leaves the door for further investigation into off-site construction and digital project management solutions.

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