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Thu February 29 2024

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Small builders getting squeezed out by pandemic shortages

9 Feb 21 With buildings sites staying open, construction has largely proved a bright spot for the UK economy over the past 12 months. But there are also losers among the winners.

Dan Grimshaw
Dan Grimshaw

Just because the industry has kept working through the various lockdowns does not mean that everyone has been unaffected by the pandemic.

The smaller businesses, it seems, are bearing the brunt of it as they are last in line for any scarce materials.

“You hear a lot of ‘you must be alright because construction is not affected’, but that’s simply not true,” said south London builder Dan Grimshaw, who trades as Beam Development, delivering home improvements and extensions.

“We are lucky, because we've been allowed to carry on as many of our sites are external or there is space inside to allow people to work in a safe environment. However, we've got supply chain and cost-related issues; we have people off with Covid; and prices are going up dramatically for everything,” he said.

“Meanwhile, many eastern European workers have cashed in their self-employed allowance and returned to their home countries to sit it out.

“Everyone is just having to try to get through it. It’s not good, but on the flip side of that, everybody's busy which is a huge consolation.”

Dan Grimshaw said that he recently received notice from his builders’ merchants telling him that timber is going to go up in January, February and March.

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“Prices are increasing and resources are becoming scarcer because supply chains are affected. Everything’s getting squeezed, and the situation was fairly tight in the first place.

“People are keeping less stock. Where once you would expect to be able to get brassware in a week, I'm now looking at a month, so all the planning has to be changed.”

Dan Grimshaw says that the last quarter of 2020 saw shortages due to bulk orders from the big volume builders who were snapping up all the timber that they could get.

“Many smaller contractors don’t have the cash or the space to bulk-buy timber for the next six months. Bulk buying only exacerbates the problem so we would resist doing this. Before, we could pretty much expect to ring a builders’ merchant for a lorry load of timber and it would probably be there the next day. We are now learning not to rely or expect next-day delivery for everything.

“We're having to adapt our timescales now because the flexibility is just not there.”

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