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Roaring Twenties brings headaches for builders

4 May 21 Small building firms saw customer enquiries increase at the fastest rate in a decade, according to the latest FMB survey.

The Federation of Master Builders (FMB), which represents SME building firms, reports growing activity across all sectors in its latest state of trade survey.

In the first quarter of 2021, workloads, enquiries and employment all grew, with enquiries growing at their fastest pace in more than 10 years

Repair, maintenance and improvement (RMI) saw the strongest performance with 55% of respondents reporting increased workloads.

However, the flip side of this good news is that shortages of construction materials and skilled labour are being exacerbated: 38% of builders are struggling to hire bricklayers, up from 22% in Q4 2020; and 34% are struggling to hire carpenters/joiners, up from 23% in Q4 2020.

With building materials not always readily available, 93% of builders said that material prices were rising.

One FMB member said: “Delays in material arriving when required is having a detrimental effect on daily work, causing constant juggling of jobs. Time planning has increased as well as time on site, and generally longer hours being worked.”

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Another said: “It is impossible to recruit skilled staff at the moment. Everybody seems to be staying with their current employer.”

A third said: "There is a lack of quality skilled entrants into the industry."

FMB chief executive Brian Berry said: “I am delighted to see the positive reports from builders across the UK that workloads, enquiries and employment are all firmly back in positive territory after a difficult year for business. In the first quarter of the FMB’s 80th year, it is particularly pleasing to see enquiries grow at their fastest rate in more than a decade. However, success is not without its challenges. A whopping 93% of builders reported material price increases in the period January to March, with particular concerns over accessing roof tiles, glazing products, timber and insulation.”

He continued: “The worrying impact of these material price increases is that quality builders are at risk of being undercut by unscrupulous traders offering lower quotes to homeowners. Consumers must be aware that the cost of building works may change in the months ahead, as access to materials continues to cause a headache for 93% of Britain’s builders.”

Brian Berry concluded: “With the construction skills shortage slowly creeping back up the agenda, it’s clear that there is significant capacity in the sector to take on new entrants and create much-needed jobs. I am bitterly disappointed over the decision to cancel the Green Homes Grant scheme, which offered an opportunity to not only bring more people into construction but also to tackle climate change. The government’s answer to this must be a long-term national retrofit strategy that has the backing of industry from the outset.”

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