Building trade buckling under supply shortages

The building supplies shortage driven by Brexit and the COVID pandemic has cost UK tradespeople over £3 billion and shows no sign of easing.

A study by small business insurer Simply Business has found not only have firms lost out but they continue to do so with almost 80% saying they’ve had to turn down work in the last three months as a result of the crisis.

Businesses said a post-pandemic surge in demand is the main reason for the current challenge with one in three citing the surge as the biggest driver for the shortage.

Between rising material costs and a drop in earnings due to turning down work, tradespeople have lost an average of £5,598 each, with one in five saying they’ve lost over £10,000, the study found.

With 79% of the UK’s 801,000 self-employed tradespeople affected by the shortages, losses so far amount to £3.5 billion, with this figure set to rise as the shortages continue.

Alan Thomas, UK CEO at Simply Business, said: “The ongoing shortages in supplies is having a significant impact on tradespeople in the UK at a crucial time in their recovery from the effects of the pandemic. With 79% forced to turn down work in the last three months alone due to shortages, the total loss to self-employed tradespeople is expected to exceed over £3.5 billion.

“This is a huge blow to the livelihoods and dreams of so many tradespeople across the country, but the current situation should concern us all – small businesses are crucial to the UK, contributing trillions of pounds each year in turnover. A £3.5 billion hole in the books of self-employed tradespeople damages the wider economy, and it’s vital that they’re given the support they need to navigate this period of uncertainty.

“Thankfully, we’ve seen remarkable resilience among the trades community throughout the pandemic, and it’s encouraging to see almost half of tradespeople remain optimistic about the future despite current challenges. Tradespeople will play a key role in the rebuilding of our economy and communities, and their resilience in the face of such challenges should give us all confidence that we’re on the right tracks to recovery.”

As the UK continues its recovery from the worst of Covid-19, 34% of tradespeople believe a post-pandemic surge in demand has been the top factor in driving the current material shortage.

A further third say the impact of Brexit on imports, with delayed border checks, tightened restrictions and trade barriers, is adding to the challenge. More than one in 10 (12%) feel Covid-19 travel restrictions are also playing a part.

Few trades have been able to avoid the impact of the supply shortage so far and this is reflected in the materials that tradespeople say have been hardest to source in recent months.

Three in five (60%) tradespeople believe timber has seen the biggest increase in price or is the most difficult to get hold of, while 38% believe cement has proven most tricky to source.

Plasterboard (23%), tiles (15%), bricks (14%) and insulation (11%) were also called out as particularly expensive and/or scarce in the UK currently.

Two thirds of tradespeople believe that rising material costs and supply shortages are further delaying their post pandemic recovery, while 70% believe it will take over a year for the industry to recover from the current challenges.

To help combat the challenge and support the recovery of self-employed tradespeople, one in three insist that increased government assistance is required and would improve the situation for the industry.

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