Blog

Together we are stronger

by John Newcomb, BMF CEO
12 November 2019

John NewcombAt the end of last month we saw the Brexit can kicked down the road yet again. As a members‘ organisation the BMF has not taken a position on the merits of leaving or remaining in the UK, but it is clear to us that continued uncertainty is badly serving the construction industry and the merchants who supply it.

Sales data produced for the BMF and published monthly in the Builders Merchants Building Index has tracked the ups and downs of sales values this year. Total merchant sales in Q1 were up by 5.9% over Q1 2018, driven by Timber and Joinery (+ 6.6%) and Heavy Building Materials (+ 6.8%).   Though partly weather related, the high volumes reflect contingency planning prior to the original Brexit date of 31 March, as everyone increased stock levels to ensure continuity of supply.

Conversely the second quarter saw weaker year-on-year growth in demand. The topline value indicator for Q2 2019 vs 2018 shows Timber & Joinery stable at -0.1%, balanced against minimal timber increases and a slight decline in sheet materials. 

Ongoing economic uncertainty led the BMF to revise its Industry Forecast of merchant sales for 2019.  Downward revisions for scenarios based on a soft and hard Brexit, now show annual growth at 2.9% (previously 3.8%) and at 2.6% (previously 3.4%) respectively.

Getting Brexit wrong has far-reaching consequences, yet most politicians have little or no grasp of how materials and products arrive at the end user. The BMF takes MPs to visit merchants in their constituency to explain their role, value and importance. For example, Hilary Benn, Brexit Select Committee Chair, visited Howarth Timber and, whilst he was Lib Dem Leader, Sir Vince Cable visited Alsford Timber. We also took members to our second Parliamentary Reception, at the House of Commons last month, where Nadim Zahawi, Minister for Business and Industry, spoke.

Post-Brexit trading issues – particularly relating to VAT, customs duty, dockside delays and timber imports – are top of the agenda in our dialogue with key ministers and MPs.  We voiced concern with HM Treasury on VAT and paying 20% more upfront on imports under a No Deal Brexit and successfully persuaded ministers to allow postponed accounting enabling members to account for import VAT on quarterly returns.  We are lobbying against other bureaucratic or financial burdens resulting from No Deal, including the move to replace CE Marking with a UK Conformity Assessment Marking. Productivity is also key. As cities prepared to introduce Clean Air Zones we argued that merchants have no choice but to use diesel HGVs to deliver heavy materials, persuading local councils to modify proposed fees and other criteria. 

With BMF member numbers above 700 for the first time since 1992, we now have a voice that can and will be heard. There is no doubt that “Together we are Stronger” – which was the theme of this year’s Members’ Conference. We will no doubt face significant challenges and changes in a world post Brexit but I am confident that by working together we can rise to meet those challenges.


Find out more about the BMF and the benefits of membership click here

To view the latest BMF policy updates click here


This article first appeared in the October 2019 edition of Timber Trades Journal (TTJ)
As a members‘ organisation the BMF has not taken a position on the merits of leaving or remaining in the EU, but it is clear to us that continued uncertainty is badly serving the construction industry and the merchants who supply it.

Earn while you learn: Apprenticeships

by Hannah Taylor, former Apprentice and BMF Marketing Assistant
5 November 2019

Hannah Taylor (R) with Carmen Daley (L) who looks after the BMF’s Apprenticeship PlusHannah Taylor started her search for an apprenticeship in 2017. She found a Marketing Apprenticeship at the BMF on the GOV.UK website. The location was perfect, so she applied and started a 15 month apprenticeship in January 2018, which Hannah completed in 12 months.
“I wanted to make marketing my career,” explains Hannah. “My boyfriend encouraged me to look at apprenticeships as he started this way. He knew the benefits of ‘earning while you learn’. It’s the best way of getting your foot in the door, he said, and I wouldn’t regret it. He wasn’t wrong.

 “I had no knowledge of the sector, so I had to do a lot of research before my interview.” Hannah’s lack of awareness isn’t unusual. “I hadn’t considered an apprenticeship, and this wasn’t a career I was told about in school or college,” says Hannah.

The apprenticeship was more than learning about marketing. “I’ve learnt a lot about the building materials industry and why it’s important. The industry is growing, and companies are investing in the future, building both their businesses and their people. Everyone I’ve met at events and forums have been friendly and helpful. It’s not as male-dominated as I thought and there are plenty of inspirational female role models to look up to.”

That’s important because, as well as improving awareness, we need to change perceptions and inspire people of all ages, backgrounds and gender. Whether you’re setting out as a young person, or looking to switch careers, there’s an amazing breadth of jobs with opportunities to start in one role and progress or move around. 

“There is a skills gap, however I feel that there needn’t be as this is a friendly and welcoming industry which fosters diversity and inclusion and looks to attract and develop talented people,” says Hannah. “There’s great variety in careers with huge opportunities for progression. Sadly though, people that don’t work in the industry presume that the only career available is working in a yard, which is not the case. There are careers in marketing, IT, driving, finance, human resources and many more.”

After completing her apprenticeship, Hannah became a full-time Marketing Assistant at the BMF. “My role developed with every assignment I completed, and I was able to apply each piece of coursework to tasks and projects in my job. My confidence and abilities have grown, and I’ve gained responsibility. I now look after the relaunched BuildingMaterials Careers website, which is part of the BMF’s strategy to promote job opportunities, and help members recruit a workforce from a wide range of backgrounds and experience.”

Hannah’s advice to people considering an apprenticeship or career in the building materials sector is: “Do it! You won’t regret it. There’s a reason so many people in the sector have been working in it for most of their careers. It’s an excellent industry to work in. If you have the ambition, drive and determination to succeed, you’ll go far. My ambition is to work my way up. It will take time and a lot of hard work, but I know I can do it!”


The BMF is proud to support The Worshipful Company of Builders’ Merchants (WCoBM) with its campaign - #BuildACareerWithoutLimits - to ‘shout out’ for construction and communicate career opportunities in our sector. Here, WCoBM asks young people in merchanting how training, education and apprenticeships have helped them develop their careers. 

Inspirational stories like these are at the heart the BMF’s Building Materials Careers campaign and the WCoBM’s #BuildACareerWithoutLimits campaign – real life case studies that help transform and improve perceptions. The campaign targets apprentices; school, college and university leavers; people who work in the sector or are thinking of a change of career.

WCoBM has dedicated funds to support training and education with a new bursary of up to £2,000 a person. Available through its Charity Fund, the bursary is open to apprentices and students looking to work for a builders’ merchant or supplier, and to people working in the sector. 

If you would like to apply directly, or know someone who could benefit from the bursary, visit www.wcobm.co.uk/about/build-your-career. Applications are subject to specific criteria.


This article first appeared in the October 2019 edition of BMN

To find out more about the BMF's Apprenticeship Plus service click here


Hannah Taylor (R) with Carmen Daley (L) who looks after the BMF’s Apprenticeship Plus
Hannah Taylor started her search for an apprenticeship in 2017. She found a Marketing Apprenticeship at the BMF on the GOV.UK website. The location was perfect, so she applied and started a 15 month apprenticeship in January 2018, which Hannah comple

Rewarding Commitment

by Richard Ellithorne, BMF Membership Services Director
29 October 2019

Richard EllithorneThe BMF continually looks to improve and expand the range of courses on offer to support members in developing their teams’ skills and knowledge. Indeed, BMF training is one of the top five reasons members give for joining. The BMF Awards Dinner in September recognised two merchants who have shown exceptional commitment to this training in nurturing the talent that will take the merchant sector forward.

This year’s BMF Training Company of the Year is Howarth Timber and Building Supplies, with Dumfries Timber Company taking the Honorary Achievers Award.

Howarth Timber and Building Supplies demonstrated their support for team development with a training programme encompassing both formal and informal routes. For a company with just over 30 branches, Howarth has no fewer than 15 team members undertaking the BMF Diploma in MerchantManagement course, which equips candidates with key managerial skills that they can immediately apply back at work.

Howarth also has 22 apprentices supported by the BMF Apprenticeships Plus Levy Management Service and has purchased 100 BMF Building Blocks modules to introduce them to the intricacies of life in a builders’ merchant. The online training programme builds into a comprehensive guide both to the industry and the products stocked and sold.

In addition, Howarth encourages team members to build knowledge through informal routes, participating in BMF’s specialist Forums, including Timber, Plumbing & Heating, Bricks, Blocks & Landscaping and Marketing, and attending key events including the recent Conference in Dubrovnik and the first BMF Young Merchants Conference in 2018. 

Their rounded approach makes Howarth well-deserved winners of the 2019 BMF Training Company of the Year Award.

Honorary Achievers Award

Operating from three branches, Dumfries Timber is one of the BMF’s smaller merchant members but they have consistently punched above their weight in developing their team. They are the only BMF member in Scotland to have participated in BMF training programmes in each of the last six years. Training extends across every level of the business from Apprenticeships to the BMF Diploma – with two team members within each of these programmes.

Dumfries Timber also utilised BMF’s two and four day courses, including the Yard Foreman’s Toolkit, How a House is Built, the Margin Improvement Programme and Management Training. On a pro-rata basis they have consistently provided more BMF training per employee than any other member in their region and are extremely worthy winners of the Honorary Achievers Award.

Young Achievers

The BMF Awards Dinner also celebrates the achievements of Apprentices and those taking the next steps up their chosen career ladder.

Nathan Jones of South Coast Building Supplies, BMF Apprentice of the Year Level 2. Nathan is undertaking a Trade Supplier apprenticeship through the BMF ATA. After 6 months in the warehouse followed by 6 months on the trade counter he has shown professionalism in both areas. He has also embraced independent learning, seeking opportunities to enhance his knowledge and improve performance, including enhancements to the trade counter showroom.

Tom Savage of Wyckham Blackwell, BMF Apprentice of the Year Level 3. Tom’s apprenticeship as a Business Administrator has involved some challenging tasks but he has retained a positive attitude to his studies throughout. Described by colleagues as a pleasure to work with, he is organised, hardworking and embraces every opportunity to learn and meet targets.

Finally, Jane Axford of Tamar Trading was named Best BMF Diploma Student, while Cameron Clarke of Longwater Supply is the best BMF Building Blocks Learner.

Congratulations to all BMF Award winners.


BMF training ranges from formal Apprenticeships and sector-specific Diplomas and a Foundation Degree in Merchant Management, to on-line product knowledge and other specialist skills training. To find out more about any aspect of BMF training, contact paige.godsell@bmf.org.uk or on 02456 854980, or click here

This article first appeared in the October 2019 edition of Professional Builders Merchant (PBM)

The BMF continually looks to improve and expand the range of courses on offer to support members in developing their teams’ skills and knowledge. Indeed, BMF training is one of the top 5 reasons members give for joining.

A sense of belonging

by John Newcomb, CEO of the BMF
22 October 2019

John NewcombAt last month’s BMF Members’ Conference I outlined the next stage of our plans to work more closely with all our members.  

Over the last 12 months we have undertaken a “deep dive” review to better understand the varying needs of each different segment of our membership.  In particular, we are seeking to improve levels of engagement through our new Building Excellence Strategy, introduced last year, which aims to make BMF membership essential within the industry, rather than merely desirable.

The strategy has at its core our desire to continue to build membership value by providing a more personalised membership experience.  Through our research we have identified six different groupings of merchant members each with roughly similar needs.  

We discovered that the proactive groups are engaging with us because they believe strongly in the BMF and as a result, they feel they belong.  Our priority is to engage with the three member groups that are predominantly reactive at present, so they come to believe strongly enough in the BMF to feel that they too belong.

Next steps

Our initial focus will be on three categories. Plumbing & Heating Merchants are the specialist independents operating in this segment.  Unignited Advancers are mainly smaller independents who currently make zero use of BMF services, and Aspiring Progressors who make only ad-hoc or minimal use of BMF services.

We are encouraging all members to complete a short on-line survey, which will give us a better idea of their service requirements. Our Regional Managers will be talking to members in the priority categories about the specific needs of their businesses both to provide focused service bundles, and to develop ways to reduce the amount of time required to attend meetings and training at regional centres. The Regional Managers will also provide prompts, to members who request this, so they don’t miss opportunities that may benefit them.  

Regional services

We know that taking time out of the business can be a problem, particularly for smaller businesses. Over the last two years we have been developing a network of Regional Centres of Excellence around to country to make it easier to engage with BMF events and training closer to home. There are 29 centres already in place and we hope to have 30 by the end of the year.  In addition, we are adding another tier, branded BMF Regional Training Centres, which will be ideal for smaller groups to meet on an even more localised level.  For example, the first Regional Training Centre, at Independent Slate Supplies in Saltash, will provide an excellent base for members in Plymouth and parts of Cornwall.

Political representation

These initiatives have largely stemmed from the 2018 Member Survey, which highlighted what members most wanted from the BMF. Political representation was another area highlighted by this research. With BMF member numbers now above 700 for the first time since 1992, we now have a voice that can and will be heard. 

In the current climate, post-Brexit trading issues – particularly relating to VAT, customs duty, dockside delays and timber imports – are top of the agenda in our dialogue with key ministers and MPs.  At this Autumn’s party conferences BMF Policy and Public Affairs’ Brett Amphlett and I met the new Liberal Democrat leader, Jo Swinson and Labour Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell. We will also be at the Conservative Party Conference and look forward to taking members to our second Parliamentary Reception, at the House of Commons on October 29th, where Nadim Zahawi, Minister for Business and Industry will be speaking.

There is no doubt that “Together we are Stronger” - the theme of this year’s Members’ Conference.  We truly believe that together we can strive to achieve excellence throughout our industry. We will no doubt face significant challenges and changes in a world post Brexit but, as I said at our Conference, I am confident that by working together we can rise to meet those challenges.


This article appeared in the October 2019 edition of Builders’ Merchants News (BMN)
The BMF is seeking to improve levels of engagement with members through its Building Excellence Strategy, which aims to make BMF membership essential within the industry, rather than merely desirable.

Benchmark performance against your peers

BMF Members benefit from a number of exclusive reports that enable independent merchants to benchmark performance against their peers.  How would you measure up?
16 October 2019


BMF KPI reportThe BMF’s Key Performance Indicators Report is one of a suite of survey reports available only to BMF members.  It analyses ratios such as sales growth, trading margins, sales from stock, gross profit, net profit, sales and profit per employee, transport costs, bad debts and other key indicators.

The 2019 BMF KPI Report for the 12 months ending April 2019 has just been published following a survey carried out among BMF members in mid-2019. Member returns covered the periods to their year ends that fell between 1 May 2018 and 30 April 2019. The ratios used within the report are a selection from the full survey findings, using a core sample of participants that enables a true like for like comparison with previous years ratios.

Although the period covered mirrors the final stages of Theresa May’s Brexit negotiations and failure to pass her deal through Parliament.  While this undoubtedly weighed on consumer confidence, the impact on merchant performance appears to be limited. The industry’s resilience is reflected in a 9.9% increase in sales despite continuing political and economic uncertainty.  That said, the previous year’s double digit growth has declined to single digit growth.

Trading margins at 29% also decreased slightly continuing a downward trend, down from 29.4% in 2018 and 30.3% in 2017. Reflecting this, net profitability in 2019 also declined by 0.7%. However, sales per employee continued an upward trajectory, increasing by 3.1% on the previous year. Gross profit per employee also increased.

Another BMF annual survey, again based on member returns, reports on remuneration in independent merchants. The latest BMF Remuneration Report shows salaries, wages paid and benefits given to merchant members’ staff – detailed for each specific job role - as at 1 April 2019, for each of the thirteen UK Standard Planning Regions and nationally.

The BMF Remuneration Report also includes employee statistics providing further useful indicators such as employee churn within the industry, gender diversity and apprentices joining the industry.  

While there are regional differences, the national male:female employee ratio this year is a disappointing 84% male to 16% female – a disappointing drop in female representation from the 81:19 percentage ratio reported in the 2018 survey.  On a more positive note, for the first time the 2019 Remuneration Report includes a separate gender ratio for apprentices.  The national ratio here, 73% male to 27% female, may at least point to greater equality in future. 

Also in the suite of member exclusive reports, the BMF State of Trade Survey, is a quarterly publication measuring confidence within the market. Merchant members complete the survey and responses are collaged to create the report which focuses on sales, costs, investment, employment and, of course, Brexit.

Other reports are available free of charge to BMF members but with a cover charge to non-members. These include the new Builders Merchant Industry Forecast, which launched earlier this year and is published quarterly.  Unlike the reports mentioned earlier this is not based on member returns. The data is taken from a unique forecasting model specifically aligned to the UK merchant sector that has been developed to support BMF members in future planning by providing consistent updates on forecasted sales.

While most forecast models tend to be based on lag indicators, taking what happened last year to predict what could happen next year, the BMF model incorporates a number of lead indicators to signal future events that will impact the building materials market, making it possible for merchants and their suppliers to forecast their customers’ requirements more accurately.

These reports are among the many services provided to BMF members. To find out more about the full benefits of membership and how to join, click here

You can read more about BMF’s suite of reports here or contact Nyssa Patel, BMF Industry Analyst/Economist at nyssa.patel@bmf.org.uk.


This article first appeared in the October 2019 edition of Builders Merchants Journal (BMJ)
BMF Members benefit from a number of exclusive reports that enable independent merchants to benchmark performance against their peers. How would you measure up?

Four years of the Apprenticeship Levy

by Brett Amphlett, BMF Policy & Public Affairs Manager
8 October 2019

Gillian Keegan MP learning about bricklaying at Chichester College. She is the Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Apprentices and was an apprentice at 16 in LiverpoolIt is four years since the Apprenticeship Levy first saw the light of day. It was the brainchild of George Osborne, the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, during the 2015 General Election. Brett Amphlett, BMF Policy and Public Affairs Manager, updates us on his article featured in the autumn 2016 edition of One Voice, six months before the Levy took effect.

The original aim of the Levy

The Apprenticeship Levy was the preferred choice to fulfil the Manifesto commitment of 3 million new apprentices before April 2020. This equates to an annual run-rate of 600,000 - an increase of 20% on 2014-2015 levels.

In his July 2015 Budget, the former Chancellor announced legislation for this levy to shift the burden of responsibility from taxpayers to employers. Ministers made other far-reaching changes to funding, standards and administration of apprenticeships that affect all firms.

The original aim sought to address:

- poor productivity in the United Kingdom compared to international competitors and
- the significant fall in employers’ investment in workplace training over 20 years.

At the 2018 Conservative Conference, another former Chancellor, Philip Hammond MP, moved to stave off criticism in two ways:

- obligated employers are now allowed to spend up to 25% of Levy contributions on apprentices in other companies
- SME employers not liable to pay the Levy had their share of costs cut in half from 10% to 5% - taxpayers now pay the remaining 95%.

Parliamentary criticism

The House of Commons Public Accounts Committee has reviewed progress so far. MPs found it does not provide value for money. Their report makes for depressing, but familiar, reading.

The Department for Education (DfE) has failed to make progress. Apprentice starts fell by 26% after the Levy was introduced and - although numbers are recovering - the 3 million target will not be reached by the target date in six months. In addition:

- employers are using Levy funds for professional training or management courses that they would have otherwise paid for themselves; and
- the programme is heavily-skewed towards higher-level apprenticeships - Level 2 learners are now only 20% of starts - before the Levy began, 40% used to be Level 2.

In July, using the Tory Leadership contest as camouflage, HM Treasury sneaked out its response. On all six criticisms, the Government accepted the PAC recommendations without quibbling. The next day, the Minister for Skills and Apprenticeships resigned before Boris Johnson took over as Prime Minister - she is a Remainer and refuses to work for him.

Employers’ criticism

City and Guilds says 95% of obligated employers were unable to spend their allowance in year one. The number of starts has been falling since it came into force. Year-on-year figures show 132,000 starts between August and October 2018, compared to 155,600 in the same period two years earlier.

The BMF is not alone in airing concern at long-term viability. The CBI has told us the budget will be overspent by £½ billion this year and £1½ billion in 2021-2022. Ministers will have to choose between allocating more funds, curtailing some apprenticeships or reducing public funding for certain apprentices.

Three possible remedies are:

- more flexibility to spend Levy contributions on other training, but increasing the rate from 0.5% 
- maintain the status quo with extra taxpayers’ funding to cover the overspend
- narrowing the scope of the Levy to focus on learners aged 16-25 years, or on Levels 2 to 5.

The first needs proper discussion between Whitehall and business. There are two scenarios:

- either employers have asked the Department to raise the rate so the extra money can be used for wider types of training or
- DfE ministers are struggling to stay within spending limits and want employers and trade associations to lobby HM Treasury for more money in the current Spending Round.

The BMF does not want ill-judged changes to meet arbitrary targets to spare ministers from criticism over policy and budgetary failure. No-one seems to be collecting data on the number of completions, the rate of drop-outs and reasons that learners do not persevere.

Your views

The BMF invites views about changes you think could help you. Ideas we are canvassing are:

- holding a firm line that the Levy pays for apprentices only - not other types of training - and making the current system work before tinkering
- extending the length of time available to spend contributions from 2 years (as now) to 3 or more.

If it is decided to allow Levy funds to be spent on other training, these could include:

- training for older employees for whom an apprenticeship may not be suitable
- helping the unemployed back into work and retraining including ex-offenders.

The BMF can help you

BMF Apprenticeships Plus is an apprentice management and employment service and offers two services to members:

- an Apprenticeship Training Agency (ATA) which acts as the apprentices’ formal employer - taking full administrative responsibility - and placing them with a host member.
- a Levy management service that will source and contract the training provider and negotiate the cost of apprenticeship training and manage and monitor payment from the member’s levy account. Also, if required, it can help companies to recruit suitable apprentices.

Conclusion

Ministers cannot be deaf to specific issues raised by trade associations like the BMF. It is bad enough that the Department for Education has had to try to put things right so soon after the policy began.

The Apprenticeship Levy is not working properly. Unless it is overhauled, construction firms will find it harder to invest in the quantity and quality of new learners - especially in the SME manual trades who are the customers of merchants.

Government changes this summer allows Boris Johnson’s ministers the latitude to take a fresh look and make changes to the policy and how it operates. It makes no sense for BMF members to pay this Levy without taking on apprentices or to have unspent money confiscated by the HMRC.


If you would like to share your views on the Levy with the BMF please email Brett Amphlett at brett.amphlett@bmf.org.uk.


This article first appeared in the Autumn 2019 edition of One Voice magazine
BMF blog: It's four years since the Apprenticeship Levy first saw the light of day - the brainchild of George Osborne, former Chancellor of the Exchequer, in 2015. Brett Amphlett, BMF Policy and Public Affairs Manager, updates us on the Levy.

Too much to handle? Tips for preventing injuries in the workplace

1 October 2019

John Southall, Managing Director of Health and Safety Consultancy Southalls, the company that provides the BMF Safety Plus service, explains how to minimise injury when handling bricks and blocks

John SouthallLifting and handling bricks and blocks is a highly repetitive task. It can also involve twisting, stooping or reaching upwards. The risk of injury increases with the weight of the block. Workers are particularly at risk if they are repetitively handling blocks heavier than 20 kg.

Injuries from handling heavy concrete and stone block products do not usually occur because of a ‘one-off’ lift. The injuries usually arise from the ongoing repetition of the work and posture during the lifting. These factors can create excessive stresses and strains on the body, which can cause damage to muscles and tendons. Many of these injuries could be prevented if staff followed correct manual handling techniques.

The Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992 require every employer to avoid hazardous manual handling as far as practicable. Where unavoidable, employers must assess and reduce the risk from manual handling operations at work.

Top Tips to Reduce the Risk of Manual Handling Injury


1. Avoid. It is common sense, but always avoid handling bricks and blocks as much as you can. Usually stored on pallets or banded and shrink-wrapped, the first choice for handling should be by a lift truck or lorry brick grab.

2. Use handling aids. Where small loads need moving around the site, use a trolley rather than carrying. Trolleys should be pushed rather than pulled.

3. Plan the lifting/handling.  Are any obstructions in the way? Check walkways are clear of obstructions, trip and slip hazards prior to lifting. Where manual handling is unavoidable, ensure there is sufficient access around the brick or block stack, to keep bricks or blocks close to the body and avoid unnecessary overreaching and stretching.

4. Adopt a good lifting position, with a firm hold and upright posture. Keep the load close to the body and avoid twisting or leaning sideways or jerking the load. Provide staff with training in correct manual handling techniques. Southalls’ Safety Cloud – part of the BMF Safety Plus service - offers ‘manual handling for builders merchants’ via e-learning.

5. Don’t lift or handle more than can be easily managed.
There is a difference between what people can lift and what they can safely lift.

6. Positioning. If the load needs to go into a precise position, put it down first, then slide into position.

7. PPE. Steel toe-capped boots or gloves may be needed but clothing should not restrict or impede movement. Consider wearing appropriate gloves when handling blocks and bricks to protect against cuts and abrasions from sharp edges.

8. Storage height Try to store heavier items at elbow height rather than below knee height or above shoulder height to reduce strain on the spine.

9. Repetitive Lifting and rest breaks. Prolonged poor technique when lifting even lightweight items them can lead to severe and lasting injury. If you are re-stacking a collapsed pile of bricks, ensure you take adequate breaks.

Safe Storage
The stability of stacked bricks and blocks depends upon the condition of the pallets on which blocks are stored and the quality of the banding/shrink-wrapping of packs of bricks. Ideally, stacks should be no more than 4 packs high, where pallets, banding and shrink-wrapping is in good condition.

Any stacked packs near perimeter fences should not exceed the height of the fence line, with the next stacks increasing gradually in height in a staggered manner, to prevent any potential of packs falling outside of the curtilage of the premises. Often customers rip shrink wrapping or cut banding to access individual bricks from ‘server’ packs. This results in split, unstable packs, prone to collapse. These packs should be monitored and loosely shrink-wrapped, to prevent uncontrolled falling bricks. Brick bins are a great solution to this - used to store loose bricks that customers can pick from, so there is no need for them to open and pick from a stored pack.

Southalls specialise in helping builders merchants stay on top of their health and safety legal requirements, keeping their staff and customers safe, and their businesses compliant. For information about the BMF Safety Plus service or to discuss any health and safety matter, please get in touch with the Southalls team on 0345 257 4015 or safetyadvice@southalls.com.

BMF members can also request the following BMF H & S Business Guide on Material Storage and Handling from Richard.Ellithorne@bmf.org.uk


This article first appeared in the September 2019 edition of Builders Merchants Journal (BMJ)
John Southall, Managing Director of Health and Safety Consultancy Southalls, the company that provides the BMF Safety Plus service, explains how to minimise injury when handling bricks and blocks.

Training comes in many forms

by Richard Ellithorne, BMF Membership Services Director
24 September 2019

Richard EllithorneWhile a great deal of BMF training is classroom or computer based, one of the longest running training offers deliberately takes delegates out of their familiar comfort zones and into the wild outdoors. Held over a weekend in the Lake District, the annual Mastermerchant competition is the perfect teambuilding event.  

Mastermerchant, which first took place in the 1980s, involves teams of four competing in a range of challenges that test their communication and problem-solving ability as much as their physical perseverance. The fun event has a serious purpose as the competition is designed to help colleagues discover how much more can be accomplished through teamwork.  Zip wire and rope climbing tasks were added to the physical challenges this year and, like the Crystal Maze, teams also tackled mental challenges to uncover clues and crack codes.

Chandlers Builders Merchants took the overall prize for the third year running, with first time entrants, Hafele, taking the Super Supplier Award.  And, of course, each of the 14 teams that entered returned to work with a greater understanding of their colleagues’ strengths and skills. If you haven’t tried it already, why not enter a team next year?

Branch Managers Forum


A more recent addition to the BMF’s training programme, the BMF Branch Managers’ Forum, has quickly established itself in the annual calendar.  The two-day event is specifically designed to help Branch Managers and those aspiring to branch management, to run their branches more effectively and to improve performance in every aspect.

This year’s event takes place from 31 October to 1 November and the BMF has geared the subject matter to stimulate new thinking and galvanise action when delegates return to their branches.  Chaired by Sue Reed, a BMF trainer and Fellow of the Institute of Sales Management, an impressive array of industry experts will share their knowledge on a wide variety of branch-related subjects. Topics include, leadership and management, traditional and digital marketing, increasing sales margins, diversity and equality in employment, environmental efficiency, health and safety as well as product masterclasses. 

The programme concludes with a truly inspirational speech from Retired Lieutenant Colonel Stewart Hill, who has dealt with huge changes to build a new life after shrapnel from an IED tore into his brain whilst fighting in Afghanistan. Stewart will deliver an amazing insight into his achievements, reflecting on the significance of teamwork, trust and communication and how life’s obstacles can be met head on and overcome.This is one training event that anyone new to branch management really can’t afford to miss.  To book your place click here or contact Paige Godsell, Training Co-ordinator at paige.godsell@bmf.org.uk or call her on 02476 854989.


BMF training ranges from formal Apprenticeships and sector-specific Diplomas and a Foundation Degree in Merchant Management, to on-line product knowledge and other specialist skills training. Find out more and book BMF training courses here.



This article appeared in the September 2019 edition of Professional Builders Merchant (PBM)
While a great deal of BMF training is classroom or computer based, one of the longest running training offers deliberately takes delegates out of their comfort zones and into the wild outdoors: Mastermerchant competition- perfect for teambuilding.

A Cabinet for Housing?

by John Newcomb, BMF CEO
18 September 2019


John NewcombSuccessive Governments have been keen to highlight the need for more housing and the Conservatives even set a target of 300,000 new homes a year by the mid-2020s. Apart from the Help to Buy scheme we have seen precious little fresh thinking or decisive action to achieve this target, yet events around the country to mark the centenary of council housing show the continuing need for homes of all types and tenures at prices people can afford.

Critics are quick to note that with Esther McVey’s recent appointment as Minister for Housing we have now seen 10 Tory Housing Ministers in the last 9 years, which does little for a consistent approach.  Taking a more positive view, the make-up of the current Cabinet shows just how many MPs take on the housing brief during their upward ministerial trajectory.

There are two ministers at the Cabinet table with responsibility for housing: Esther and her Secretary of State, Robert Jenrick.  In addition, there are four former Housing Ministers in the Cabinet – Dominic Raab, Alok Sharma, Brandon Lewis and Grant Shapps – and one former Secretary of State, Sajid Javid.  If we also count in Boris Johnson’s experience of housing and planning policy when he was London Mayor, this could be the most pro-housing Cabinet the BMF has seen in its entire 111-year history!

Be assured we will continue to promote the building materials industry’s role in the new homes supply chain and encourage the new minister to act to narrow the gap between housing demand and supply.

Members’ Conference

BMF members have heard first hand from several Housing Ministers. For example, Alok Sharma spoke at our 2017 Members Annual Conference and Sajid Javid addressed our Parliamentary Reception last year.  Esther McVey’s predecessor in the post, Kit Malthouse, had agreed to speak at this year’s Members conference, but with Brexit now dominating the Cabinet agenda until the end of October, we are waiting to see if Esther is able to take up the invitation extended to her.

In any event Members can look forward to an enlightening and entertaining day at their Annual Conference in September, which has a new format to this year. Following a morning of high-profile speakers, the afternoon sessions are designed to give delegates an opportunity to sample a variety of BMF training courses and discover more about three of our business support services covering Employment, Transport and Health & Safety.

The evening session is given over to celebrating the achievements of member companies as well as the achievements of individuals working within our industry with Apprentice of the Year and Young Achiever of the Year Awards.

Our Awards Dinner is also one the of the BMF’s main fundraising events of the year. Over the last two years the generosity of our members has helped us to raise almost £220,000 for charitable causes.  At this year’s Dinner Bobby Davro, the comedian, actor and TV personality, will host a charity auction raising money to be shared equally between the BMF’s charity of the year, Variety – the Children’s Charity, and Samaritans, another cause close to our hearts as we continue to raise awareness of mental health within the industry and to promote the training of mental health first-aiders within our own organisation and for our members.

It promises to be another memorable event, and I look forward to seeing many of you there.


This article first appeared in the September 2019 edition of BMN

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BMF CEO John Newcomb talks about successive Governments highlighting the need for more housing, yet the need for homes of all types at prices people can afford continues, as well as the BMF’s Annual Conference and Awards.

BMF Young Merchants - building the next generation

By James Spillane, BMF Regional Manager
10 September 2019


BMF Young Merchants in ToulouseKnauf Insulation hosted this year’s BMF Young Merchants Group supplier trip to Toulouse, which took place over an extended weekend in July. 25 attendees representing both merchants and suppliers enjoyed a plant tour, a merchant visit and plenty of opportunities to network over drinks and dinner.

This year’s trip centred around a tour of Knauf Insulation’s Lannemezan plant. Opened in 2010, Lannemezan manufactures high-performance non-combustible Glass Mineral Wool products for use all over Europe.

After the tour, the group was given an overview of the Knauf Insulation business in the UK and globally over lunch.

The team also visited a branch of Chausson Materiaux, one of the leading national independent builders’ merchants in France, with 350 sites, 3,800 staff and an annual turnover of €863m.

The final day included an inspiring trip to the headquarters of global aviation giant Airbus, followed by drinks and a gourmet dinner in the evening, before flights home the following morning.

“These trips are about building connections and broadening horizons”, said Jo Callow, Merchant Sales Support Manager at Knauf Insulation and Vice-Chair of the BMF Young Merchants Group. “Today’s young members may well be tomorrow’s business leaders, so this is about giving them the chance to connect and to learn new things - whether that’s seeing how high-performance products are manufactured, or how other merchant chains operate.”

The BMF Young Merchants group brings together the next generation of merchant and supplier leaders. Through regular meetings and events, including the annual supplier trip, members build their personal networks and develop the lasting relationships that are a hallmark of successful professionals in merchanting.

“Conversations with people in similar businesses give great insight into how other companies are dealing with the challenges we all face”, said Edward Parlato, Marketing Executive, Browns Builders Merchants. “I work for a family business, so I was first directed towards Young Merchants at age 19. It was a fairly daunting prospect at the time, but it’s one of the best things I’ve done in the industry. The connections and opportunities you get from this group are incredible. Anyone with a young person in their business who they want to invest in for the future should consider encouraging them to join Young Merchants.”

This year’s trip had a particularly European focus, with a contingent of young members from the FeMa, the Belgian equivalent to the BMF, in attendance for the first time. With international connections increasingly important in the construction industry, young members from both federations will benefit from more opportunities for cross-border collaboration to forge new partnerships and work together on common industry interests.

This article first appeared in the September 2019 edition of One Voice.

Click here for more information about BMF Young Merchants or contact james.spillane@bmf.org.uk
The BMF Young Merchants group brings together the next generation of merchant and supplier leaders. BMF Regional Manager, James Spillane talks about the group's recent trip to Toulouse, hosted by Knauf Insulation.

Mental health and wellbeing: Developing People. Delivering Results

by Suzanne Skeete, Managing Director of TT Training Academy
3 September 2019

Suzanne SkeeteWorkplace mental health and wellbeing is moving up the corporate agenda. Businesses now recognise there are tangible benefits in looking after their most important asset – their staff. By providing health and wellbeing services in the workplace they can help to lower absence rates, increase productivity and improve employee engagement.

With the Office for National Statistics reporting more suicides in construction than any other profession, now is the time for every organisation to take a proactive approach to their mental health provisions.

These statistics show that over a 5 year period, to the end of 2015, 1,409 men and 10 women committed suicide within the construction industry. In fact the number of suicides in construction are now six times higher than deaths from falls from height.

To help tackle the rising number of people struggling with their mental health, TT Training Academy has been assigned to support the BMF and all its members. They have already successfully trained staff within the BMF (pictured), who now have First Aid Champions in place to support those struggling with mental health issues.

TT Training Academy have a proven track record of delivering outstanding Mental Health training. Their team of exceptional trainers and counsellors come with a wealth of experience, delivering Mental Health and Resilience training; as well as extensive 1-2-1 support to those that have additional needs. In fact, their Managing Director Suzanne Skeete has made it her mission to raise awareness for the extensive Mental Health issues people are facing every day. She is often called upon for her expertise to discuss these issues for National News and media, such as ITV and BBC National News.

They will be delivering a professional 1 day First Aid Mental Health Training to any member of the BMF and their staff. This course has been approved by the National Counselling Society and is designed to provide a greater First Aid Mental Health Champions.

In addition, they are also providing Mental Health Awareness and Wellbeing days to our members. This one-day course is devised of 6 interactive workshops, designed to provide a greater awareness of mental health issues; and the importance of our own mental wellbeing.The day provides practical strategies and tools to bolster mental, emotional and physical resilience. This course is recommended to every member of staff in any organisation.

Suzanne Skeete, Managing Director of TT Training Academy, says: “We are extremely passionate about organisations getting proactive to increase their Mental Health awareness and have the necessary support in place to ensure that those struggling get all the help that they need. We are thrilled to be working with the BMF and all of its members in providing professional Mental Health Training and Support. Together we can make such a difference within an industry that has one of the highest rates of suicide in the UK.” For more information please visit www.tttrainingacademy.com or contact Suzanne Skeete at suzanne@tappytwins.com or call 07507 228319.


This article first appeared in the September 2019 edition of One Voice
View previous editions of One Voice here
Workplace mental health and wellbeing is moving up the corporate agenda. Businesses now recognise there are tangible benefits in looking after their most important asset – their staff.

Recognising rising stars

by Ryan Edwards of Kellaway Building Supplies
20 August 2019

Ryan receiving his Award from Worshipful Master Pippa Latham and Lord Dannatt

Both the BMF’s Building Materials Careers campaign and the Worshipful Company of Builders’ Merchants’ Build a Career Without Limits campaign have been set up to improve awareness and understanding of the builders’ merchant sector and the many career choices in our industry.

There is an amazing breadth of roles in a builders’ merchant or with a supplier of building materials, including opportunities to start in a particular job and move into another. But a lot needs to be done in making our sector look exciting to inspire young people to join. The campaigns target apprentices; school, college and university leavers; those who already work in the sector and those thinking of a career change.

In this blog BMF student and prize winner Ryan Edwards of Kellaway Building Supplies talks about his career in merchanting and his thoughts on working in the industry.

Every year WCoBM hosts its City & Awards luncheon to celebrate the achievements of people the Company supports in training and education through its charitable fund. This year, Ryan Edwards of Kellaway Building Supplies was among the three BMF students to be awarded a prize, winning ‘Best Student’ with the BMF Diploma in Merchanting. The Master - Pippa Latham and Guest of Honour General The Lord Dannatt presented Ryan with an engraved tankard and a cheque for £1,000.

Ryan joined Kellaway in February 2016 as Operations Supervisor and within a few months, he moved to the Stonehouse branch in Gloucestershire as Assistant Branch Manager. Although the construction industry wasn’t new to Ryan – his father was a builder/ stonemason and Ryan had previously worked with a landscape company – it was his first role with a builders’ merchant.

“I was put forward for the BMF Diploma by my Operations Manager Mike Nash,” explains Ryan. “It took 27 months to complete the course, and consisted of nine modules – allowing three months to complete each module - with a classroom session at the start of each one. The course has been extremely beneficial to my personal learning and development, and invaluable in my current role. I feel I have a greater sense of direction, am more focused and effective, and more motivated. It’s helped strengthen my skills in areas where I needed more support and overall given me greater career satisfaction.”

When asked for his view of the builders’ merchant sector and the potential career opportunities for young people, Ryan said there is “an abundance of potential opportunities within the merchant sector, but it’s not promoted nearly enough to young people and school leavers like the trades eg Plumber, Gas engineer and Electrician.

“The benefits of working in the builders’ merchant sector are the many possibilities for career progression and the training available to support your career development,” continues Ryan. “So my advice to other young people considering a career in construction or in the building materials sector is to find out more and jump in. This is a growing industry with excellent opportunities to progress, including gaining recognised qualifications combined with high earning potential.”

Ryan is a fantastic example of how young people can be motivated to achieve with the support of industry specific training and recognised qualifications. The Diploma is supporting Ryan’s career development and generating encouraging words for others.

Plugging the skills gap


According to the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) the industry will need to recruit an extra 168,500 workers over the next five years to support construction growth and make up for an ageing workforce. That is a lot of new workers to find! So it’s more important than ever to show how working in our industry can be fulfilling and rewarding, and overcome any negative misperceptions. One way of doing this is to improve awareness of the scope of training and development, and the availability of financial support to those that are unable to fund qualifications individually or via their employer.

WCoBM has dedicated funds to support training and education in the merchant sector, and recently launched a new bursary worth up to £2,000 a person. Available through its Charity Fund, the bursary is open to apprentices and students looking to work for a merchant or supplier to a builders’ merchant, and to people already working in the sector. Applications for the bursary are subject to specific criteria. For more information and a detailed breakdown, visit www.wcobm.co.uk/about/build-your-career.


This article first appeared in the July/August 2019 edition of Builders Merchants News (BMN)


Building Materials Careers is a recruitment initiative set up by the Builders Merchants Federation to promote the industry. The Building Materials Careers website features video profiles of a number of merchant and supplier employees, explaining how they came to work in the materials supply industry and what they like about their specific job. Members can get involved by being featured on the website as a case study and providing their career story to inspire newcomers into the industry. Visit www.buildingmaterialscareers.com for more information.

The website not only promotes apprenticeships and life-long learning, it also gives members the opportunity to upload and manage their job advertisements free of charge using the ‘Advertise A Job’ facility. Potential apprentices and employees can easily locate these roles using the region, sector and location search filters. More and more members are taking advantage of this member benefit, by creating accounts and promoting their vacancies via the website. Vacancies range from entry level jobs such as apprenticeships and weekend work, up to high skilled careers such as Area Managers and Directors. Jobs cover all types of specialisms and are promoted with varying requirements.
In this blog BMF student and prize winner Ryan Edwards of Kellaway Building Supplies talks about his career in merchanting and his thoughts on working in the industry.

Teamwork: winning ways

By John Newcomb, BMF CEO
13 August 2019


John NewcombAs the industry’s trade association our mission is to help members to excel at providing materials and services for building a better future, so it is enormously gratifying when the impact of the work we undertake is recognised by our peers. I was both surprised and humbled to receive this year’s Leadership Award in the Trade Association Forum (TAF) BestPractice Awards.

While it is a tremendous honour to receive this Award, I am well aware that I am just one member of a fantastic team at the BMF. This is really a reward for their hard work in developing initiatives which add real value to our members. I am incredibly proud of what has been achieved to date and we will continue to promote best practice and deliver the services that matter most to our members. 

On the subject of industry recognition, at the BMF Members' Annual Conference and Awards in September we will be announcing both the BMF Training Company of the Year and the winner of the BMF Supplier Engagement Award.

The BMF Training Company of the Year is open to merchants who actively support and develop their teams using BMF Training as a key element of their programme. Five companies from around the UK have been nominated for this Award - BPS Builders Merchants, Dumfries Timber Co, Chandler Material Supplies, Howarth Timber & Building Supplies and LBS.  Between them they have used every aspect of BMF’s training offer, including on-line learning, one or two day classroom courses, formal apprenticeships and our flagship Diploma and Foundation Degree courses.

Suppliers and service providers play a vital role in the building materials community and no less than eight companies are shortlisted for our Supplier Engagement Award. Crystal, Encon Insulation, Ibstock, JCB, Kerridge Commercial Systems, Knauf, Marsh Industries and Velux have all demonstrated the value they place on membership by integrating BMF sponsorship within their sales and marketing strategies.

We must also congratulate the “Merchants of Menace” from Chandler Building Supplies who recently won the annual BMF Mastermerchant competition for the third year running. While it is a fun competition the combination of physical and mental challenges is designed to help participants discover more about their colleagues’ strengths and develop better teamwork.

Overseas inspiration


One of the most important things that we can do in order to succeed is to share knowledge and best practice.

The BMF’s closer association with UFEMAT means it is now far simpler to share best practice across international borders. Our first European Young Merchants fact-finding trip saw 25 next generation managers from the UK and Belgium visit an impressive Knauf manufacturing plant in the French Midi-Pyrenees region, followed by a visit to Chausson Materiaux, one of the country’s largest independent merchants with 350 sites across France. The group also visited the impressive Airbus operation for a two-hour tour of their manufacturing facility to learn from a completely different industry.

Meanwhile the BMF’s own best practice exchange with our Spanish colleagues at Andimat is underway.  They joined us in July to see our head office operation and the Mastermerchant event in action and we will be taking part in a return visit this autumn.  What goes around, comes around – and everyone benefits.


Book your place at Mastermerchant 2020 here


This article appeared in the July/August 2019 edition of Builders Merchants News (BMN)
BMF CEO John Newcomb talks about the importance of teamwork and sharing best practice.

Building the next generation for the building materials industry

by Building Materials Careers
30 July 2019

Building Materials CareersAttracting and developing talented people into the industry is one of the BMF’s main strategic goals. With this front of mind, the BMF has thoroughly restyled and refreshed its careers website which now highlights the wide range of careers available in both merchant and supplier businesses. With its fresh focus on the roles available across the whole building materials industry, the website also has a new name, Building Materials Careers.

The relaunched careers website follows policy research with members who told the BMF they wanted the Federation to help promote the broadest possible range of job opportunities in the industry, fostering diversity and inclusion and helping members to recruit a workforce from a wide range of backgrounds and experience.

The new website not only promotes apprenticeships and life-long learning, it also gives members the opportunity to upload and manage their job advertisements free of charge using the ‘Advertise A Job’ facility. Potential apprentices and employees can easily locate these roles using the region, sector and location search filters.

Job seekers will be inspired by the range of roles available in our industry, no matter what educational qualifications they achieved at school or university. The Building Materials Careers website features video profiles of a number of merchant and supplier employeesexplaining how they came to work in the materials supply industry and what they like about their specific job.

Don’t forget to explore the new website at www.buildingmaterialscareers.com or follow updates on social media – just search for Building Materials Careers on Twitter, Facebook, Linked In and Instagram.

Are you an Ambassador?


We are looking for more volunteers within the industry to become Ambassadors and help us with our campaign to attract talented young people.

Our latest website encourages careers advisers to contact us to find someone to share their own work experience with students considering their first career steps.  To facilitate this we are looking to grow our BMF Ambassador network. This is a great opportunity for BMF members to join the 34 people already committed to the Ambassador programme currently working with us to promote their passion for the industry to the next generation.

BMF Ambassador responsibilities include: being a spokesperson for the industry, sharing their personal testimonials at schools and colleges and attending apprenticeship and careers fairs. Ambassadors will also have opportunities to be featured in local and regional media coverage. 

If you feel you or somebody else in your company would make a excellent Ambassador or have any questions in regards to programme, please contact Paige Godsell, Training Coordinator at  paige.godsell@bmf.org.uk.or call 02476 854989.


Visit the Building Materials Careers Website at www.buildingmaterialscareers.com


This article first appeared in the July/August 2019 edition of Professional Builders Merchant (PBM)


Attracting and developing talented people into the industry is one of the BMF’s main strategic goals. With this front of mind, the BMF has restyled and refreshed its careers website.

Elections, Elections, Elections

by Brett Amphlett, BMF Policy & Public Affairs Manager
22 July 2019


Brett AmphlettIt is two years since the General Election and two months since the Local Government Elections. In London, politicians are looking back at the 40th anniversary of Mrs Thatcher’s 1979 General Election win and her election as the first female Prime Minister. A good time to take stock of what the BMF is doing for you and what comes next.

Brett Amphlett, BMF Policy & Public Affairs Manager, describes several aspects of his advocacy. At the time of writing, the European Parliament Elections have not yet been held, so you can be forgiven for not wanting to read about Brexit (again). ...

What is the aim?


Our aim as your trade association is to:

- raise the profile to parliaments and governments - and outline the role, value and importance of merchants and manufacturers
- demonstrate how the BMF works to ensure our voice is heard, so that your interests are reflected in public policy.

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy is our sponsoring department. The Industrial Strategy and the Construction Sector Deal are the main policies. The BMF responded to the Industrial Strategy consultation in April 2017 and we have spoken to DBEIS ministers on more than one occasion since then.

What do we want?


Four years ago, we realised we had no single document that said what we want. In September 2015, we developed our first “BMF Policy Outlook”. The latest version was published on 25 March 2019.

BMF Policy Outlook” sets out our asks in terms of policy, regulation, tax and spending. They were based on a survey of members last summer. The findings shaped the content that was refined with the BMF Board of Directors, Regional Chairmen and Forum Chairmen. Thank you to everyone who wrote in with praise or constructive criticism.

BMF Policy Outlook” is being sent to the Government, Devolved Administrations, Metro-Mayors and local authorities. It has arrived on the desk of the Prime Minister, Construction Minister, Housing Minister and Energy Minister. Copies are going to Party Leaders, Opposition Spokesmen/Women, Parliamentary Committees and the House of Lords. Copies can be downloaded here.

Representing you

BMF representation is essential because construction is fragmented, without one voice or a unified view. We provide the perspective because merchants are the most efficient route-to-market for goods from quarries, sawmills, brickworks and factories.

Economic and political commentators (including the Bank of England) forecast that most regions will suffer an economic shock after leaving the EU. Notwithstanding Brexit, the most pressing problem is the need to boost output, employment and education levels in less-well performing regions, compared to London and the South East.

While many of our members were in Dubrovnik, enjoying the BMF All-Industry Conference, Treasury Ministers were preparing for the Spending Review due later this year. The last one, in autumn 2015, allocated £4 trillion of taxpayers’ money for the five years until March 2020. Civil servants will be busily preparing bids - against the Prime Minister’s promise that “the end of austerity is in sight”, leaving the Chancellor to work out how (and which) public services will receive more money.

What are we doing?

Parliament

The BMF held its first ever parliamentary reception last year to mark our 110th anniversary as a trade association and 40th anniversary as the BMF. Former Business Secretary Sir Vince Cable MP spoke at the start, with Housing Secretary, Sajid Javid MP replying for the Government as closing speaker.

At the end of October, we are planning another parliamentary event to showcase excellence in the manufacture of building materials and home improvement products. The emphasis is on innovation and applied manufacturing to show politicians how BMF members develop low-carbon solutions and improve product performance.

Party Political Conferences

We attend the autumn conferences of the main parties to do our lobbying - especially to Metro-Mayors and Local Authority leaders. In addition to debates and fringe meetings, the BMF conducts one to one talks with MPs, councillors and party officials to understand their thinking and pitch our ideas.

In the 9 years since we began this lobbying, the BMF has earned the right to be heard. We enjoy good relations with elected members who take us seriously because they recognise the BMF represents about 85% of the merchant market. In three months’ time, we will be in Bournemouth (Lib Dems), Brighton (Labour) and Manchester (Conservative).

MP Constituency Visits

Most politicians have little or no grasp of how materials and products arrive at the end user. To overcome this, we take them to visit merchants or manufacturers in their constituency to gain insight into a local business. Politicians appreciate these visits and they support the “BMF Policy Outlook” in helping to explain the role, value and importance of merchants.

For example, we successfully completed visits by:

- Northern Ireland Minister John Penrose MP to Bradfords Building Supplies
- Brexit Select Committee Chairman Hilary Benn MP to Howarth Timber
- Lib Dem Leader Sir Vince Cable MP to Alsford Timber
- Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell MP to Lords Builders Merchant.

More visits are being arranged this summer in Yorkshire, East Anglia, London and elsewhere.

Consultation

On a daily basis, Whitehall puts out proposals for public consultation. For those directly relevant to BMF members, we provide coherent and balanced input to government. Wrongful assumptions are challenged and wherever possible, we give alternative proposals.

Examples of recent responses:

- Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government - Planning Reform Package
- Birmingham, Derby, Leeds, Nottingham and Southampton Councils - Improving Air Quality
- Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs - Packaging Producer Responsibility.

Conclusion


Negotiations to leave the EU are complex and difficult, and getting it wrong has serious, far-reaching consequences for the markets BMF members serve. But in our dealings with politicians, we continue to urge MPs and Ministers to look forward to life after Brexit and take action to boost productivity in a steady, stable manner, so you can trade and prosper.

The BMF firmly believes a key driver of economic development is a resilient, functioning and enduring supply chain like ours that (literally) delivers for local communities. That is why we do what we do to influence in our advocacy as the fourth largest trade association in construction.


This article first appeared in the summer 2019 edition of One Voice



Find out more about our lobbying for members here
Two years since the General Election and two months since the Local Government Elections, Brett Amphlett, BMF Policy & Public Affairs Manager, takes stock of what the BMF is doing for you and what comes next.

It’s really, really good to talk

9 July 2019
By Fiona Russell-Horne, BMJ Editor-in-Chief


Mate. Don’t be embarrassed ...

Fiona Russell-HorneOver the years in this industry, I’ve sat through a lot of conference presentations. Some good, some outstanding, some tedious in the extreme. Some instantly forgettable, lots memorable, though not always for the right reasons (death by crane off-loader – those of you who were there will know what I mean).

Plenty have made me laugh, plenty more have had me transfixed; some – big softy that I am – have made me cry. Stewart Hill, whose head injury in Afghanistan made his own daughter unrecognisable to him, was one, Ben-Hunt-Davies talking about winning gold in the Sydney Olympics was another. Then there was Roger Black whose physical perfection turned me into a gibbering wreck (yes, I AM that shallow), Alastair Campbell who – regardless of political leanings – was the best presenter I’ve ever seen and Sir Clive Woodward, explaining how the combination of talent, technology and tenacity won England the Rugby World Cup in 2003.

All of these were fabulous, memorable presentations, but none of them had me in tears as much as the Friday morning of this year’s BMF Conference in Dubrovnik 10 days ago did. I have never yet sat through an episode of TV’s DIY SOS, fronted by this year’s opening conference speaker Nick Knowles, without crying. One of the things I always love about this industry is the way the stuff this industry makes and sells has the power to change people’s lives for the better. Knowles’ presentation highlighted that. The programme uses the power of good design and properly specified products to ensure that families stay together, have homes that they can develop in, or have some independence that they have thus far been denied through circumstances. All amazing, emotive stuff.

What also came out of Knowles’ presentation was the way that the community-working-together-for-someone-else spirit of the programme (and its spin-offs like Band of Builders) can also help people in other ways. The lump in my throat got bigger and bigger as Knowles described the builder who, knowing he struggled with crowds and anxiety, turned round three times and drove away from volunteering for a project, yet finally felt able to play his part, and Knowles talked of the benefit that being part of that initiative brought him.

If the tears were welling at the end of Knowles presentation, then they were in free-fall by the end of the Johnny Benjamin and Neil Laybourn slot. The latter’s description of spotting a young man sitting on the edge of Waterloo Bridge in a t-shirt in January, contemplating jumping off was haunting. To anyone who followed the #findingmike social media campaign and the subsequent documentary, the presentation was emotional and humbling.

The biggest killer of men between the age of 18 and 45 is suicide. It’s an astonishing, terrifying statistic. We take our mental health, and that of others for granted and we really shouldn’t.  We must learn to open up and to allow others to open up. Or not, if that’s what they need. Being there, letting people know that we are with them, is vital.

“Mate. Don’t be embarrassed (about your mental health issues).” And “Mate. It’ll be OK. You’ll get better”. Those were the two phrases among Laybourn’s many that cold January morning that Benjamin said got through to him. The two phrases that made him feel he wasn’t alone, that there was a way through the darkness and that there were people out there who could and would help him.

Such simple phrases, that you could tell came from the heart. Those phrases made the difference between Jonny Benjamin being a statistic and him being on a stage in Dubrovnik, telling his story to an audience that couldn’t count a single dry-eye amongst them.

Closing that morning’s sessions was another outstanding presentation. Never before have I listened to my recording of a session on the plane on the way home purely for the pleasure of hearing it all again. Michael Caulfield, sport psychologist and, clearly, the world’s nicest human being, had me doing that. As someone who is an armchair-sports fan, listening to him talking about the issues that sports people have with winning, failing, anxiety, performance, money worries, family issues had me wanting to laugh, cry and cheer all at the same time.

In sport, in life, in the building industry, in business: it’s never been more important to talk and to listen. To ourselves and those around us.


This article first appeared in June 2019 on the Builders Merchants Journal blog

Useful Mental Health Support links from the Dubrovnik Conference Workshop on Mental Health run by Brian Dow (Mental Health UK), Jonny Benjamin MBE and Neil Laybourn

https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk
https://www.samaritans.org
https://youngminds.org.uk (for parents)
https://hubofhope.co.uk
https://www.crisistextline.org
https://beyondshamebeyondstigma.co.uk


View all the Dubrovnik Conference presentations and photos here

Find out more about upcoming BMF events here

BMJ Editor-in-Chief Fiona Russell-Horne talks about the importance of mental health and presentation highlights from the BMF Conference in Dubrovnik last month.

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