President’s Column (October 2018)

I sometimes wonder whether main contractors and clients really understand how the structural steelwork sector works or the structures and processes we have in place to ensure sufficient quantities of high quality structural steelwork fabricated in the UK make their way onto the market.

The construction industry’s response to issues in the UK steelmaking sector a few years ago, the possibility of a no deal Brexit, and the US trade wars make me think not.  Or maybe the media just likes to spread bad news.

Either way, those of us involved directly with the structural steelwork supply chain know that there is an adequate supply of high quality steel onto the UK market – both now and into the future.

During the so-called steelmaking crisis of 2015, the structural steelwork sector just got on with its day-to-day business, supported by an uninterrupted supply of raw steel from steelmakers and its strong steel distribution and stockholding network.

The structural steelwork sector works on a just-in-time basis, receiving raw steel deliveries daily, usually to go straight into the fabrication process.  This is why the sector is so efficient and has long delivered to construction sites in a similar, just-in-time way.

The reason this is possible is because steel distributors and stockholders hold stocks of raw steel, ready for these daily deliveries to steelwork contractors.  It is these stocks that help facilitate the continuous flow of structural steelwork to site.

It may be that a no deal Brexit causes some delays at customs.  But the risks to the structural steelwork sector are low because steel distributors and stockholders have always held adequate stocks of steel in the UK to meet the forward demand, and will continue to do so.

There has also been some concern about the US trade wars, especially the safeguarding measures that the EU has put on imports from other countries.  But again, BCSA does not expect any negative effect on steelwork supply to the UK.  First, because imports of raw steel from countries outside the EU have always been low, around 10%.  And second, because on a pro rata basis, imports of steel from outside the EU are sitting well below the current quota levels.

All of this means that clients and steelwork contractors can be reassured that today and tomorrow, the supply of structural steelwork onto the UK’s construction sites will continue uninterrupted and the sector will work as efficiently as it always has.