A survey of 1446 tradespeople, conducted by Travis Perkins plc, the largest supplier of building materials and equipment, suggests that tradespeople are feeling optimistic about the future and their prospects for 2021.
95% of respondents, who represent a snapshot of the nation's builders, electricians, plumbers, joiners and other tradespeople, expect workloads to increase or remain the same over the next two months. Similarly, 94% of respondents expect material purchases to either increase or stay the same over the same period.
The results paint a picture of resilience and optimism as the nation adjusts to a new phase with fewer restrictions in the wake of a successful vaccine rollout.
Despite the ongoing risks posed by COVID-19, it is the availability of materials, rather than COVID restrictions, that has most recently had the biggest impact on the UK's tradespeople, with one third of respondents stating that it has had a big impact on their business over the last three months. In particular, respondents commented on having to deal with rising project costs, difficulties associated with planning and increased project lengths.
There was clear indication, however, that UK tradespeople are finding ways of working around the challenges posed by the global shortages of key building materials, and that they are managing the situation by using more or different suppliers (73%), seeking alternative brands or products (48%) and planning ahead and buying materials earlier in the project cycle (41%). There is also a focus on collaboration and of supporting and helping others in the industry, with 18% of respondents stating that they are sharing information on where stock is located, whilst 8% saying that they are even sharing actual stock with others.
As a result, 64% of respondents have seen little or no impact to their businesses from material shortages.
The survey is the third full publication of Travis Perkins' RMI Index following the inaugural report published in August 2020, although Travis Perkins has carried out this ‘temperature check' of the nation's tradespeople and their expectations for the months ahead since 2012.
UK construction is a vital part of the country's economy and the only sector where output is above its pre-pandemic levels; supporting over 2 million jobs and contributing £153 billion to the UK, which is typically over 6% of total economic output, according to The Office of National Statistics. The Repair Maintenance and Improvement (RMI) market constitutes around 20% of this (£29bn in 2019); a value that is projected to continue to rise over the next two years according to Experian forecasts.
Commenting on the results of the survey, Nick Roberts, CEO of Travis Perkins plc said: "It is heartening to see that UK tradespeople, who make up the backbone of the UK construction market, have such optimism around the near term outlook.
"It is clear that material shortages are having a significant impact in the form of planning challenges, delays to existing projects and new project starts, however, customers are rising brilliantly to this challenge by proactively managing and working around these issues by planning further ahead and finding alternative solutions, such as trying new products and working more collaboratively.
"This clearly demonstrates the strength and resilience of UK tradespeople, who make such a significant contribution to the national economy, so it is hugely encouraging to see their confidence in domestic repairs and maintenance as a continued key driver for growth in the months ahead."
A full copy of the report is available to download via this link.