The construction industry in the UK has been in the vanguard of economic recovery as the country continues to open up after a year of lockdowns and other restrictions. Post-lockdown, the construction industry is operating at an escalating speed, with a record seven-year high activity levels. With this rapid increase in the activity levels, the demand for steel and construction materials is also at an all-time high.
The supply of a number of essential minerals used as raw materials for steel and construction materials has been stressed by this rising demand. Due to the mismatch between demand and supply, most minerals are now experiencing double-digit inflation. The UK government ordered the Construction Leadership Council to keep an eye on the issue earlier this year, prompting the formation of the Products Availability task force to tackle this issue. It has added more and more things to its list of products facing a severe shortage in the months since it was launched.
Timber has been in high demand ever since the lockdown restrictions have been lifted. However, the demand is in no way matched by the supply of timber. There is a massive shortage in the demand for timber. Timber remains one of the “worst affected product sectors” for the construction industry, according to a CLC construction product availability update released last month.
The Timber Trade Federation (TTF) claimed that the stock levels for timber were declining in its May market statement, owing to the influx of demand from overseas. This increased demand has prevented UK-based purchasers from replenishing their stock since the Covid outbreak. According to the Timber Trade Federation, demand for timber has soared at an all-time high in the UK and worldwide as housebuilders scrambled to make up for the lost time during the post-pandemic lockdowns and other restrictions that were inflicted. The growing emphasis on a net-zero building has boosted demand since lumber has significant carbon-storage potential; thus, additional focus is being placed on timber, according to the report.
Furthermore, Brexit-related issues further limit timber stockpiling in the UK since 80% of softwood used in construction originates from Europe.
The demand for cement has also been rising since restrictions were lifted after the lockdown, and the construction industry resumed its operations. Similar to timber, cement’s increasing demand was also met by a shortage. In April, cement was added to the CLC’s list of products in insufficient supply.
However, according to Nigel Jackson, chief executive of the Mineral Products Association (MPA), cement supply has improved to an extent. Bulk cement deliveries, which account for more than 80% of the UK market, are mostly back to normal.
Bagged cement shortages, which accounted for about 18% of all cement sales in the UK in February, have persisted, owing in part to an upsurge in demand as the sector began to reopen following the covid-19 lockdown.
Another material that has been facing a severely high demand is steel. Steel demand is outstripping its supply throughout the world, not just in the UK. The British Electrotechnical and Allied Manufacturers Association (BEAMA), a UK industrial trade association, confirmed earlier this month that a severe fall in steel production in early 2020 caused a worldwide shortage. Albeit output began to increase in mid-2020, to tackle this shortage. The “availability of steel remains difficult,” according to the group, and is expected to last for months before the steel supply levels start increasing.
Due to “exceptional demand,” British Steel halted receiving structural steel section orders this week, and a director of a steel specialist told Constructions News that he is concerned that the decision may lead to “panic purchasing,” worsening the situation.
The owners at Western Industrial Business Interiors, along with other companies, are aware of the increasing demand for steel and construction materials and the impact it has had on their business operations. Post-lockdown, this increasing demand and lack of sufficient supply have led to excessive inflation in the prices, with suppliers taking advantage of the situation. The post-Brexit vote has further worsened the situation. Local production of the in-demand materials can also be viewed as a solution to meet the high-level demand. For instance, the future of cement is comparatively more optimistic since it is produced locally in the UK instead of relying solely on imports.
However, with the lockdown restrictions being eased and activity returning to normal, we can expect demand and supply levels to return to their previous levels and the imbalance between demand and supply to get minimized gradually.