Construction activity has risen at its fastest rate since 1997, and the post-pandemic boom has a had a dramatic effect on the availability of labour and materials, issues compounded by Brexit and wider shipping issues.

What this means for self builders planning or working on a project is that materials, especially where approved by planning, can be difficult to secure, causing delays and rising costs. Equally, builders and contractors submitting quotes are finding it hard to stick to these in every case, due to the unforeseen nature of the changes.

The Builders Merchants Federation (BMF) conducts regular quarterly reports, the Builders Merchants Building Index which tracks activity. Its latest report into Q1 2021 activity showed growth fo 15.1% against the same quarter in 2020 as the industry bounced back, with record sales of materials and hire equipment.

The Federation of Master Builders (FMB) reported that small builders, which build many one-off homes, are seriously impacted by these shortages. These small- to medium-enterprise (SME) builders tend to buy materials on an on-demand basis, in comparison to large volume builders, which are able to buy materials in bulk and store until they are needed.

The Construction Leadership Council (CLC) tracks issues around materials supply and demand through its product availability group. This reports monthly on availability to support house builders with their forward planning, as delays and shortages impact pricing and scheduling.

Scheduling is important in building, as many trades cannot move onto site until a previous stage has been completed, and contractors may have to move to other jobs.

The issue is, to a degree, global and is expected to continue in the foreseeable future. Government’s own data on materials and statistics also points to the continued issue, for example, the price of imported plywood was 29.8% more expensive in May 2021 than it was in May 2020. Construction News reported that overall, material costs were 10.2% more expensive than the year before.

The issue is wide reaching, and includes structural steel, timber, pitched roofing materials, plastics and paints, cement and electronic components.

Brian Berry, Chief Executive of the FMB said: “The building materials shortage is disproportionately affecting small builders and threatening their recovery from the pandemic despite strong growth in the construction sector.

“The materials shortage is proving a serious detriment to both businesses throughout the supply chain and consumers. As the country reopens for business, it’s imperative that building firms have better access to the materials they need to build.”

The FMB also recently reported in its State of Trade Survey that 38% of its SME housebuilders were struggling to hire bricklayers, up from 22% in 2020, while 34% were struggling to hire carpenters, up from 23% in Q4 2020

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