Product Availability Improves But Not For All Sectors

WHILE THERE HAS been an improvement in product availability, demand continues to outstrip supply for certain products, including roofing materials and particularly those imported.

Roofing is the Exception

There remains ongoing challenges in the supply of roofing products, bricks and blocks. Timber battens have overtaken concrete roof tiles as the most difficult to obtain, as well as certain electro-technical products.

In their latest statement, the Construction Leadership Council’s Product Availability working group co-chairs – John Newcomb, CEO of the Builders Merchants Federation and Peter Caplehorn, CEO of the Construction Products Association – say the market is no longer experiencing the extremely high levels of demand seen earlier in the year.

UK manufacturers remain at full production capacity and the current picture is more positive than seen in recent months, with improved availability of most products across most regions.

RMI

Residential repair, maintenance and improvement activity remains robust with most SME builders reporting full order books well into 2022, albeit activity has slowed slightly.

This is thought to be partly due to delayed projects and increased costs and lead times and partly down to the season. The softening has helped improve some manufacturers and merchants stocks, such as cement.

Activity across the infrastructure, commercial and new housebuilding sectors continues and will likely remain at present levels into the first half of 2022.  Reports from large housebuilders and contractors suggest that while a variety of product shortages persist, the situation for most remains manageable.

Brick Supply

The supply of bricks is a longer-term issue, and imported products are helping to meet a shortfall in current UK capacity until new lines come on stream in 2023 and 2024.

The Brick Development Association says that with demand expected to remain high, lead times will be an issue for the coming year.

For builders to ensure that they get the bricks they need, particularly if they are seeking non-stock bricks, they will have to work more closely with the brickmakers to ensure availability and to mitigate delays in delivery.  While this may require flexibility around choice and specification, quantities should be sufficient to meet demand.

Blocks

Consistently high demand over the past 18 months has made it difficult for block manufacturers to build the level of stocks required to maintain regular supply throughout the year.

Manufacturers are seeking to build stocks over winter while building sites are typically less active. However, demand from new housebuilding is expected to put supply of blocks under pressure in early 2022.

Timber Imports

Stocks of timber – a largely imported product – have seen some improvement, though prices remain volatile.

Significant delays at ports continue both here and abroad, having a knock-on effect upstream to the Scandinavian mills where production has been forced to slow.  This suggests that supplies may remain uneven into early 2022.

Electrotechnical

In the electrotechnical sector, products with electronic components and those made from steel, such as cable trays remain in short supply, while twin and earth cable has become more problematic. Product pricing continues to be challenge, particularly for medium sized contractors working on tight fixed price contracts.

Transport

Reported constraints relating to a shortage of HGV drivers have lessened for the time being, though the pre-Christmas period may cause further pressure. However, imports, particularly from the Far East, continue to be affected by long lead times, delays at ports and high container costs.

Uncertain Outlook

Uncertainty about inflation and the cost of products dogs the industry, particularly steel, cement, bricks, blocks, glass and ceramic tiles, which are all affected by rising energy costs.

There is also uncertainty about spikes in the number of Covid cases over the winter having an adverse effect on product availability.

The impact of full Border controls that come into force at the end of this year is a further unknown, as is the implementation of the new UK CA Mark and UK Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation & Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) regulations.

The CLC says it will work with government to identify medium term problems affecting materials and product availability that can be eased by an agreed, planned response.

The statement concludes with advising good communication throughout the supply chain as essential with encouragement for all sectors to work closely and collaboratively.

>>Read more about materials availability in the news

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