Timber and Materials Shortage Will Get Worse Before It Gets Better

Timber has long been taken for granted as a ubiquitous material in our industry as the supply in the UK has remained fairly steady since the post-war period.

But now a combination of factors related to Brexit and the pandemic have led to a steep rise in the cost of materials like timber, plywood, sheet materials, paint, concrete and glazing. We are also seeing a growing skills shortage in our industry which needs to be tackled urgently.

How long have costs been rising?

Timber prices first began to rise in the UK in May 2020, roughly two months after the pandemic began. The cost of planed and imported wood increased in these initial months and continued to rise exponentially twelve months on.

During the initial lockdowns spent at home, people’s minds turned to home and garden improvements. The issue with this was that the unprecedented levels of demand could not be met with the supply available, with around 80% of softwood used in fit outs, refurbishment and building coming from countries in the European Union.

Shipping costs also rose sharply, as a result of rising global demand and partially because of a shortage of empty storage units.

A labour shortage is a contributing factor

The industry is facing a labour shortage at the moment, due a to a combination of factors related to less young people entering the trade and a shrinking workforce due to Brexit. The pandemic hugely affected apprenticeships and access to learning practical skills, due to almost all education moving online.

Research conducted online earlier this year found that 46% of people living in Scotland, had also struggled to find a tradesperson when they needed one.

We haven’t been immune to this and we are still on the look out for a skilled Bench Hand Joiner. If you know someone that fits the bill, please send them this job spec and tell them to get in touch with us.

What will happen next?

So will the materials inflation we have observed reduce back down? It is too early to know exactly what’s going to happen and it’s fair to say that uncertainty has been the only real inevitability in the last year.

But it looks like timber prices will continue to rise well into Q3 in the UK. Moreover, during the usual summer shutdown, the UK often relies on supply from Swedish sawmills. But just as the industry is moving again here, Sweden has closed for the summer.

As we move into the fourth quarter of 2021 and latterly into 2022, our hope is that supply and demand will balance out.

In addition to this, most people will have had a double dose of the vaccine, which should lead to a return to normal in consumer behaviour. Travel should also start to open up more steadily, easing the strain on importing delays.

Noble Francis, Economics Director of the Construction Products Association, has also predicted that shipping costs will start to reduce in the next 3-6 months.

While it might not decrease back down to pre-pandemic and Brexit levels, we do expect it to decrease steadily as the year goes on.

We will communicate with suppliers and clients about any potential fluctuations in prices as and when we have that information.

We are continuing to carry out fit outs across Scotland and the UK, so please get in touch to discuss your project needs or refer us if you know someone with a project in mind.

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