From the Editor

How are you finding timber sourcing currently? The humble timber roofing batten is currently under the spotlight, with firms joining forces to raise the alarm on supplies. As our news feature on page 8 details, the trade body for roofing contractors has joined up with leading suppliers in a campaign to persuade housebuilders to work together with them to tackle the issue.

In a virtually unprecedented ‘perfect storm,’ low stocks of European softwood have been joined by huge pent-up demand from housebuilders as life returns to normal post-pandemic, and already rising prices. As availability is squeezed, costs naturally increase; there’s no easy way out of this situation. The world is building again, but the basic materials are not there to support it.

The other major global markets are offering no rescue – far from it – with Russia already limiting exports, meaning its major customer China is now sourcing more timber from Europe. The US and Canada are also not the export source they once were.

Whether this is all the fault of Covid, or whether Brexit is also to blame, having led to delays and hassles between European logistics and UK customers, the challenge is mounting. DIY during lockdown has no doubt had a huge part to play, removing more timber from the chain. Whatever the case, at some point housebuilders will feel the pinch, if they’re not already, when their suppliers can no longer absorb the costs.

However, as Brian Berry explains in his monthly comment piece from the SME- defending Federation of Master Builders on page 14, the problem is far from only restricted to timber. While timber prices may be up 50 per cent, cement is up around 30 per cent, and some small builders are finding it incredibly difficult to locate bags of this basic commodity. Steel and insulation, much of which comes from overseas, are also in short supply, and price rises of several per cent for various materials are expected later in the year.

Roofers are saying that timber battens are the hardest items to find currently, and being key to most housebuilding, they are fundamental to achieving the 300,000 homes target. But generally there are concerns around shortages across the board, with Q3 of this year likely to be when the worst impacts occur.

It is easy to say that builders need to work closely with suppliers to manage expectations. This means that suppliers will not only need to give early warning of problems with stocks to help clients reschedule, they will also need to provide transparency on pricing increases, if they want to retain trust. “Flexibility around contracts” between suppliers and builders is another strategy for coping with this situation that’s easier said than done.

The impact of price rises as well as delays to programmes may not be sustainable for many small firms; we have to wait and see. While the industry is grappling with the problem, it’s time the Government intervened to help, so that we don’t have to wait for a very damaging end of year.

James Parker