Construction firms in Northern Ireland are finding Brexit is adding to the UK-wide materials shortage.

As per Brexit negotiations, in order to prevent a hard border in Ireland, the UK and EU negotiated for the Northern Ireland Protocol, which kept Northern Ireland within the EU’s single market for goods. Mark Spence, managing director for Construction Employers Federation, which represents firms in the country, claimed it has led to a drop in the sale of goods from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.

“It is simply there are more onerous customs requirements for goods travelling across the Irish Sea to Northern Ireland,” he said. “Northern Ireland is a fairly small market [for Great Britain]. The additional burden of administration to access that market is maybe not economically viable for some suppliers in Great Britain.”

He clarified that while the Brexit aftermath was not the only factor that contributed to the materials shortage in the country, it was “an added layer on top”. For British firms, Brexit has been cited as adding to delivery times, but strong global demand, a lack of transport capacity and constraints at domestic suppliers have been more commonly cited.

The Ulster Bank Purchasing Managers’ Index – a seasonally adjusted index to track the changes in business activity in Northern Ireland – reported in June that it was the worst quarter for input cost inflation in the PMI’s 19-year history of data gathering.

Ulster Bank chief economist for Northern Ireland Richard Ramsey said in their NI PMI report for June 2021 that extra red tape due to Brexit was partially to blame: “Across the UK, Northern Irish firms continue to experience the most severe rates of inflation with firms invariably linking the increased costs and lengthening delivery times to Brexit paperwork,” he said.

Ramsey added that the boom in demand in Britain was not being replicated in Northern Ireland: “Construction was the only sector not to see a pick-up in new orders with incoming demand falling significantly and marking the sixth successive month of decline. This contrasted starkly with UK construction firms, which saw new orders hit the fastest growth rates to date.”

A survey by the Construction Employers Federation on the state of trade for the first half of 2021, found that 98 per cent of construction firms had struggled with material shortages. Almost a third said the situation was critical while more than two thirds said it was serious.

Timber, steel, plastic, pipes, roofing, doors, windows and glazing had the biggest shortages.

Spence said that Northern Ireland was dependent on Great Britain and the EU for most of the materials in short supply. Since there has been a disincentive for supplies from the UK, the industry in Northern Ireland has had to look to the EU. Spence said this has created extra problems for firms. “Some of those are new relationships with new suppliers. You do not have the same pricing they would offer to you as an old customer. Some of those are creating additional costs as well."

Once EU and GB standards diverge, suppliers from Great Britain will have to obtain a mark for EU standards alongside the GB one to export to Northern Ireland. Spence warned this may be another hurdle for the construction industry in Northern Ireland.

Brexit Minister Lord Frost is expected to unveil an update to the Northern Ireland protocol today.