UK material shortages: cement and aggregates added to the list - 08 APR 2021 BY JOSHUA STEIN
Cement, aggregates and plastic products have been added to the growing list of items in short supply in the UK, the Construction Leadership Council has revealed. The products have been added to a shortages list that includes timber, steel, roof tiles, bricks and imported products such as screws, fixing, plumbing items, sanitaryware and electrical products. Builders Merchants Federation chief executive John Newcomb and Construction Products Association chief executive Peter Caplehorn have warned that high demand for construction products is set to continue through 2021 and supply problems are expected to get worse in the short term.
Newcomb and Caplehorn, who are co-chairs of CLC Product Availability work group, said plastics production is being held back by a shortage of raw materials, which will continue for at least two to three months. Steel prices are also expected to climb further due to global dynamics, despite an anticipated rebalance in supply and demand in the coming months.
The council highlighted timber availability as a growing concern, as production levels are not meeting global demand. Timber supply in the UK could be under threat of decreasing further as other countries have said they will pay more to access the material, Newcomb and Caplehorn said. However, supplies of plaster and plasterboard have markedly improved on last year’s levels, they added.
Contractors are urged to order supplies early for upcoming projects, but must be prepared for increased demand and longer delays.
The report is the first since the government asked the CLC last month to monitor material shortages on a quarterly basis. It comes following reports of shortages and price hikes in recent months.
The Builders Merchants Federation first warned in January that high demand, escalating prices and shipping delays were drastically affecting material availability, particularly at small firms. The BMF said roofing supplies were hardest hit by the drop in supply.
Paul Hooper, chief executive of drainage and building envelopes company Alumasc, said in February that increasing raw materials prices could increase contractor costs by between 4 and 5 per cent. He added that the inflation could be short-lived as the pandemic begins to slow down and raw material availability increases.
Experts: Construction material shortages to continue in 2021
The three big drivers — backlog, revenue expectations and contractor confidence — in the business group’s report “nudged up” slightly from the third quarter, but failed to reach pre-pandemic numbers. All three CCI scores were 70 or above in Q1, before the pandemic began to impact material shortages.
According to the report, 71% of contractors surveyed are facing at least one material shortage. Lumber was the most-cited material shortage (31%), followed by steel or electrical supplies other than copper wire (11%) and lighting supplies (10%).
Fuel, copper, steel and aluminum have each experienced modest price increases, while concrete’s price has slightly decreased, according to Atillo Rivetti, vice president at Turner Construction, who assembles the firm’s Building Cost Index. Additionally, Rivetti said, Turner has received notifications of further material and equipment price increases for 2021.
Steel and lumber price increases have been steep, jumping up several times this fall according to a report from Ken Simonson, chief economist for the Associated General Contractors of America.
Lumber prices have done an “N-turn,” Simonson said, rising rapidly like they did in the summer. In early December, the U.S. Commerce Department lowered the tariff on Canadian-imported lumber from 20% to 9%, which could impact pricing. However, increasing demand from home builders and remodelers could keep costs higher, he wrote.
The shortages are impacting not only costs but lead times, Rivetti said. Price increases for materials like scrap steel and gypsum drywall are expected to continue into 2021.
“Material availability is best managed through ongoing communications with manufacturers and distributors starting at the earliest design stages of a project,” he added.
The Chamber of Commerce’s quarterly report also shows contractors face increasing challenges due to COVID-19:
- 83% experiencing product delays.
- 71% struggling to meet schedule requirements.
- 68% experiencing delays expected into Q2 of 2021.
- 58% putting in higher bids on projects.
- 53% saying major project shutdowns/delays are a top concern.
- 41% saying material shortages is a severe consequence of COVID-19.
- 39% turning down work opportunities.
Number of products in high demand increases to include host of materials.
A shortage of construction materials such as timber, steel and screws is likely to get worse before it gets better with firms told to plan for increased demand and longer delays.
A joint statement from John Newcomb, chief executive of the Builders Merchants Federation, and Peter Caplehorn, chief executive of the Construction Products Association, warned demand for construction products both in the UK and globally meant problems in getting hold of products will continue throughout the year. Bricks are among the products that are in short supply, the CLC has said.
The pair, who are co-chairs of the Construction Leadership Council’s product availability work group, said while supplies of plaster and plasterboard were much improved on last year, almost every other product group is experiencing longer lead times and higher prices.
And they warned the issues will continue for at least the next two to three months. Newcomb and Caplehorn said the number of materials on the shortage list has increased with other countries prepared to pay more than the UK to get hold of products. They said: “Plastics, cement and aggregates have joined existing lists of products in short supply, including timber, steel, roof tiles, bricks and imported products such as screws, fixing, plumbing items, sanitaryware, shower enclosures, electrical products and appliances. “Imports of timber will be an issue for the foreseeable future. Not enough timber is being produced to meet world demand. Added to this, other countries are prepared to pay more to secure their supply, pushing the UK lower down the pecking order.” Steel is also continuing to be in high demand globally with prices going up as a result, they added. Other issues facing the sector include raw material shortages hitting polymer supplies that are causing production problems for plastics such as lower ground drainage, while coatings manufacturers were also experiencing raw material shortages.