construction cranes

Construction in the UK Picks Up as COVID-19 Cases Fall, But Materials Shortage Threaten Recovery

The COVID-19 pandemic seems to be at its final leg across the United Kingdom as more people gain immunity from the spreading virus despite the emergence of new variants. The number of positive cases has fallen significantly since the mass vaccination campaign started in January. From the peak of 70,000 earlier this year, the seven-day average by May is down to just 2,000 new cases.

The region has already started lifting restrictions. Now, people are allowed to socialize indoors and dine and drink in restaurants and pubs indoors.

Construction in the UK Commences

Some sectors are also now pretty much back to normal. The construction sector is currently experiencing a boom, recording its biggest increase in five years (since 2016). It is being propelled by the easing of lockdowns. Like in most countries, the construction sector had to shut down because of the pandemic, resulting in the biggest slump in activity in more than two decades. Now, the construction sector is catching up.

According to the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, members are expecting profits to increase this year, a first since 2019. Recruitment of workers is also set to rise in the coming months as demand for housing also increases. The industry will need more laborers who have received a CSCS card from a reputable CSCS test centre.

Already, the number of furloughed construction workers decreased in March. While there are still thousands of furloughed construction workers, many are expecting to get back to work soon as the economy reopens.

However, the construction workers and companies will be facing challenges ahead that may slow down its recovery from the impact of COVID-19.

building under construction

Shortage of Construction Materials Might Slow Post-Pandemic Recovery

In April 2021, the Construction Industry Council warned that materials are experiencing a shortage due to higher global demands. Common materials used for construction such as cement, plastic, timber, steel, bricks, roof tiles, and many others are currently in short supply.

The shortage is caused by the disruptions at ports and shipping routes caused by the pandemic and that one incident in the Suez Canal earlier this year. The rising costs of building materials in Asia as well as the occurrence of extreme weather events in the U.S. also contributed to the shortage.

Timber prices, in particular, shot up sharply in the past six months. It now costs 80 percent more. Both copper and steel, on the other hand, jumped by 40 percent in prices. The cost of paints and varnishes also increased by 30 percent.

The UK is not the only country experiencing a shortage. The U.S. is also seeing inflated prices of construction materials because of the global supply shortage and the increased demand for housing. Industry leaders warned homeowners that there will be delays although some constructors with larger warehouses were able to stockpile during the pandemic.

Small Contractors Bearing the Brunt

The Federation of Master Builders reported that 82 percent of its members are struggling to source basic construction materials such as timber, insulation, and roof tiles.

Unfortunately, the smaller contractors are the hardest hit. They are less equipped to handle shortages and rising costs because they do not have the capacity to order large quantities in advance. Importers are also, most of the time, prioritizing larger businesses.

Moreover, the rising cost of building materials is creating uncertainty for the future. Some contractors have added clauses in contracts to account for a potential increase in the coming months, especially for big-ticket items.

The situation is not about to get any better soon. The shortage is expected to continue into summer, right when the weather is warming up and activity within the construction sector is at its busiest/most in demand.

Industry experts worry that the rising cost of construction materials will lead to loss of contracts and a decline in housing projects. If the materials continue to increase, fewer people will be able to afford the construction of new houses or home improvements.

Businesses in construction will not be the only people affected. The UK is also experiencing a housing crisis where the cost of owning a house has become too high for the average household. There needs to be more affordable housing built in high-demand areas across the UK. However, if the cost of construction materials is too high, owning a house will be a far-fetch dream for many.

The construction sector struggled during the pandemic because of lockdowns. Now that restrictions are being lifted, they finally have the chance to recover from the losses from the past year. However, the rising cost of construction materials is threatening to prevent businesses and workers from recuperating.

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