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Product lead times stabilise but timber, steel and brick shortages remain

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Overall construction product supply has improved slightly, but certain items, including bricks and blocks, cement, concrete roof tiles, timber battens, chipboard, steel lintels and PVC products remain in short supply.

That’s according to the latest statement from John Newcomb, CEO of the Builders Merchants Federation and Peter Caplehorn, CEO of the Construction Products Association, co-chairs of the Construction Leadership Council’s product availability working group.

Newcomb and Caplehorn observed a “slight levelling off” in construction demand, mostly in the domestic repair, maintenance and improvement sector, but said demand remained high.

While lead times for some product areas have stabilised, others remain in short supply.

Newcomb and Caplehorn said the main concerns are around bricks and blocks, with some regions experiencing increased delays in securing supplies; concrete roof tiles, where lead times are averaging 24-30 weeks, and bagged cement. 

While there was some easing in the shortages of bulk and bagged cement in August, with additional cement brought in from abroad, delivery has nonetheless been constrained by the lack of domestic haulage capacity. Extended delivery times are expected to continue until the end of the year and some allocation will likely remain in place.

Transport challenges continue

Transport issues continue to be the most common and pressing concern across the supply chain, with global shipping capacity reduced by 25% since the start of the pandemic, leading to delays and high container prices. The British Ports Association has warned that it expects challenges to continue until at least the second quarter of 2022.

Meanwhile, within the UK, the shortage of HGV drivers is affecting every sector and will take many months to resolve, despite government action to increase driver testing.  

And Newcomb and Caplehorn warned that while price increases for many products have moderated, this may be “short-lived” due to pressure on costs of raw materials, labour and transport. Rising energy prices are also expected to take effect as the wholesale cost of gas doubles.

Newcomb and Caplehorn concluded: “Despite the current challenges, by working closely and collaboratively, the supply chain is just about managing under unprecedented circumstances. We are not out of the woods yet. While many factors could still cause disruption, we are currently in a better position than three to four months ago.”

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