Aspiring to Inspire Young People in Merchanting  

by Paige Blanchard, Sales Graduate at Howarth Timber
12 March 2019

Paige BlanchardAs a member of the most recent intake of students in its in-house Sales Management programme, Howarth Timber & Building Supplies’ sales graduate Paige Blanchard is keen to encourage other young people into the industry.  

Since joining the merchant industry, my career has gone from strength to strength in a short space of time, with great development opportunities such as the sales graduate course I’m participating in, as well as hands-on learning at the Doncaster branch.  

I’ve experienced challenges such as the vast product range to learn and understand, but I’ve been fortunate to have worked with a number of supportive people as I familiarise myself with the industry. As with any industry though, there’s always room for improvement in terms of how we promote ourselves and the industry to the next generation.  

Sharing experience

It’s really interesting to hear from other young people on the Howarth graduate course as well as in the wider scope of the industry. We share a lot of the same goals and challenges, and it’s always interesting to hear the experiences of the speakers at conferences and trade days, discussing different aspects of the industry and how it has changed over the years. The sector as a whole is still quite slow to adapt to change, and it’s important that we challenge this to make sure we’re always at the cutting edge and able to change with customer needs.  

One of the consistent points of discussion is the lack of young people – particularly women – in the industry, and the need for this to change. It’s a really rewarding industry to work in, so I’m passionate about changing this.  

For me, the opportunities available to train and develop new skills is particularly inspiring – you definitely need a wide skill set to make the most of opportunities and I plan to use my own experience to inspire others.  

Going forward

I feel the key to motivating other young people is all about having the right mindset to drive a business forward – I believe that anyone with this ethos, regardless of age or gender, can have a successful career in this sector.  

As an industry however, more needs to be done to encourage young people with the right mindset, particularly young women, to take up careers in merchanting. I believe there are three key ways we can do this: education, media and visible role models.  


Through education, stereotypes of merchanting and those who work within it can be challenged – if we teach children to challenge old-fashioned stereotypes from a young age, they’re more likely to break the mould as they get older, seeing careers in construction and merchanting as real, viable career options.   Businesses within the merchant industry could also take opportunities to visit schools, colleges and universities to discuss the attractive and varied career opportunities it provides.  


The media, particularly social media, should play a vital role in encouraging young people to join the merchant industry; after all, they absorb it every day.   I don’t feel social media is utilised as much as it should in promoting careers in the industry, and this is something that could easily be changed. By making the merchant industry more visible on social media – the responsibility of both businesses and employees – young people will begin to view it more as an exciting career option.  

Visible role models

The use of various forms of media should be promoting the merchant industry to young people, not just through making it more visible, but specifically by making role models visible. Young people need to see other young people with successful careers within the merchant industry in order to encourage them to pursue a career themselves.

The younger generation don’t see their peers in the sector due to the current underrepresentation, so it’s important to utilise those who do currently work in merchanting through making them visible – whether that’s through social media, television or education.  

As an industry, merchanting is exciting and fast-paced, offering real challenges and real rewards. I look forward to seeing how we can push this forward and encourage more young people to join us. 

For more information on Howarth Timber & Building Supplies, visit or search for Howarth Timber on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

This article first appeared in the Spring 2019 edition of BMF's One Voice magazine

As one of the most recent intake of students on the Howarth Timber & Building Supplies Sales Management programme, sales graduate Paige Blanchard is keen to encourage other young people into the industry.

Why do an apprenticeship?  

During National Apprenticeship Week, Carmen Daley of BMF’s Apprenticeships Training Agency explores the merits of undertaking an apprenticeship  
5 March 2019

Carmen DaleyTwo weeks after I passed my driving test, I found myself standing on the driveway, explaining to my father how I’d managed to not only drive into the back of someone earlier that day, but I’d also just ran into his garage wall. Dad maintains the first thing he did was calmly explain that you don’t really learn until you are ‘doing the do’ and this was all part of the learning experience. Trust me – it was far from the first thing he said but once his blood pressure returned to normal, he did indeed say it.  

I often think of this when asked ‘why do an apprenticeship?’. My wonderful (and very patient!) driving instructor gave me the tools and techniques to drive, but it was only when I was actually driving day in and day out, that I truly learnt to apply them. It was a similar experience entering the workplace after three years of University.  

One of the many benefits of an apprenticeship is that the training you receive is not only relevant to your exact role and industry, but it is also put into practice immediately. No waiting to pass a test or graduate or find a job, you simply learn and apply in real time. A sure-fire way to get you on the right path within your chosen career.    

The other bonus is that, unlike driving lessons or University, you don’t have to pay for your training nor complete it in your own time. The Apprenticeships format was designed specifically to be accessible to all and to achieve this, study time is protected within work hours, and financial barriers are removed. No late-night study sessions or tens of thousands of pounds of student debt here!  

Often when I explain to people that there is a way to learn whilst being paid, and without incurring huge debts, they believe that there are only entry level apprenticeship qualifications available. Absolutely not true. Apprenticeships now go all the way to Level 7. Chartered Accountant, HGV Driver, Master of Business Administration (MBA), Chartered Manager, Team Leader, Digital Marketer, Health and Safety Technician, are just few of apprenticeships out there.  

Builders' merchants are a hidden gem for Apprenticeship opportunities. Often overlooked, they offer an array of career pathways including those listed above. The very nature of the industry means that those working within it need to be at the forefront of exceptional customer service. As well as the formal apprenticeship training, Builders Merchants also invest heavily in additional training of their apprentices in the form of online learning, short courses and supplier training, all of which run alongside the formal apprenticeship.  

During National Apprenticeship Week, I urge all of you who are seeking a solid career pathway with significant opportunities, to consider an apprenticeship with one of the many members of the BMF. If ever you needed proof that “doing the do” works, this formally dodgy driver now oversees the BMF Apprentice Driver Program.  

Find out more about setting up apprenticeships with the BMF's Apprenticeships Plus service here
To find out more about careers in the industry click here
During National Apprenticeship Week, Carmen Daley of BMF’s Apprenticeships Training Agency explores the merits of undertaking an apprenticeship.

Remuneration Report shows apprenticeships’ upward curve

By Richard Ellithorne, BMF Membership Services Director
25 September 2018  

Richard EllithorneThe BMF’s annual Remuneration Survey covering the 12 months ending April 2018 provides some interesting insights into the merchant industry. One of the most positive is a huge leap in the number of apprentices employed.  

The BMF has undertaken its annual Remuneration Report, showing salaries, wages and benefits paid to builders’ merchants’ employees for a number of years. Most of the financial information is shared exclusively with BMF members.  However, two years ago three new questions were added to provide greater insight into gender diversity, youth recruitment and employee churn rates.  With a second year of data to hand we are now able to track progress in these areas.  

The greatest change is seen in the number of apprentices employed by builders merchants. Nationally, apprentices made up 7.45% of the total merchant workforce at 30 April 2018, a significant increase from 1.12% reported in 2017.  This is particularly interesting as it contrasts markedly from the apprenticeship trend across all UK industry, where the number of new starts fell dramatically following the introduction of the new apprenticeship funding system in May 2017.  

Whilst some found the new funding system challenging, the BMF embraced the opportunities it has afforded.  Firstly, by forming an accredited Apprenticeship Training Agency and launching BMF Apprenticeship Plus, which removes potential administrative hurdles making it easy for BMF members to take on apprentices in any job role.  In addition, along with the Electrical Distributors Association, the BMF championed the development of a new, industry specific Trade Supplier Apprenticeship Standard - the first developed by our industry for our industry. Launched earlier this year, it is already on course to become the merchant sector’s primary Level 2 qualification.  

We have not analysed why merchant apprenticeship numbers have risen so dramatically, but the increase in the number of relevant apprenticeship standards coupled with BMF’s administrative support services may well be a factor in encouraging more merchants to recruit apprentices and upskill staff.  

Diversity in merchanting  

The 2017 survey uncovered a wide disparity between the number of men and women working in the merchant sector, an 85:15 male:female employment ratio. The 2018 data results showed a small improvement to a ratio of 81:19 male:female. This was largely driven by the results in London and the South East, where women now account for around 25% of merchant employees.   

Before we start celebrating, we should bear in mind that women currently make up 47% of the total UK workforce.   

Women are significantly under-represented in the construction industry as a whole, yet it is still surprising that the gender gap is so great in merchanting, which is essentially a service industry. One possible reason is that many women don’t imagine themselves in any aspect of construction in the first place, so don’t apply for jobs in merchanting.  It is down to the industry to make itself more attractive to a wider cross section of the population, possibly by offering more flexible contracts.  This is an area that we will be looking at closely again next year.

Employee churn  

The survey also considered employee churn rates for the second consecutive year.  The BMF’s 2018 national figure of 20% leaving their job during the year is higher than the 18.7% reported in 2017, but remains lower than the UK’s all-industry average labour turnover rate of 23%. [*Source: Labour turnover rates 2017 published by XpertHR]  

Employee churn can be seen as a positive indicator. Voluntary labour turnover rates can be a reflection of growing confidence in both the UK’s economic performance and employers’ optimism in recruitment.  However, if the churn level becomes too great it can lead to skills shortages, which is why we need to encourage more young people, both male and female, into the industry.  In particular, we must do more to change women’s perceptions about the industry.  The BMF is doing this in our Youth Employment campaign, which features a number of female role models, but more action throughout the industry is clearly necessary.  

The BMF’s Remuneration Report is one of many business reports and services provided to members, who include both merchants and their suppliers.

To find out more about the full benefits of membership and how to join the BMF click here, email: or phone us on 02476 854980.    

This article appeared in the September 2018 edition of Builders Merchants Journal (BMJ)
Richard Ellithorne, BMF Membership Services Director talks about the BMF’s annual Remuneration Survey covering the 12 months ending April 2018 provides some interesting insights into the merchant industry. One of the most positive is a huge leap in t

Future forecasting with market data

by John Newcomb, CEO of the BMF
26 February 2019

John Newcomb
While change has always existed, it does seem that we are currently living through a time of tremendous uncertainty. Our reaction to change is frequently negative. People fear the unknown and such uncertainty breeds unrest. A clear example of this is the deep division between those who think the UK is best served by leaving the EU, with or without a deal, and those who are equally convinced that we must remain in order to prosper.  

In our own industry, we may fear the consequences of a collapse in consumer confidence as Brexit continues to dominate the headlines. If consumers are not spending, what will be the effect on our businesses? Will investors think they are worth investing in? Is there any point in hiring and training staff if we have to lay them off down the line? Entire economies can be stifled at times of such uncertainty – often needlessly.  

It is not possible to stop the future from changing, but if we understand why and how it is changing, we can not only protect our businesses, but even give them a competitive advantage. The key is having access to accurate data.  

The BMF has been working on a new forecasting model for the building materials supply industry for some time. Our Builders Merchants Building Index (BMBI) uses data analysed by research company, GfK, to report on actual sales category performance. While this has enabled users to see which products and regions are currently growing, we have now gone a stage further to meet our industry’s need for accurate forecasting.   

Most forecasts tend to be based on lag indicators. Essentially, they use 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 our markets. 

Using the BMBI data coupled with advanced modelling techniques we have developed a channel specific forecasting model to show what is likely to happen in the next 12 months, making it possible for merchants and suppliers to forecast their customers’ requirements more accurately.    

Building Excellence in building materials supply  

Our new forecasting model is just one example of the BMF helping its members to Build Excellence in their business. Our latest member survey confirmed the value of other services and support offered by the BMF.  

An overwhelming majority, 98%, find the BMF both member-focused and member-engaged, whilst 95% agree we are passionate about adding value to members’ businesses.  

Overall, the top five services valued by our members are:  

- Legislation and regulation updates (98%)
- Networking opportunities (95%)
- Market data and business reports (85%)
- Specialist sector and job function forums (87%)
- Training (87%)  

The survey also confirmed the major factors affecting BMF members’ business over the coming year. Not surprisingly the B-word sits at the top of the list, closely followed by related concerns such as the economy, the availability/supply of products, price increases, together with skills and recruitment issues.  

In times of economic uncertainty, it is more important than ever to ensure that your business has access to accurate, relevant, timely and impartial information as well as regular points of contact with colleagues in your field. All of which enables you to build a 360o picture of the market to help you make the right decisions for your business.  

Whether you are a merchant or a building materials supplier, find out what the BMF can offer your business click here    

This article first featured in the February 2019 edition of Builders Merchants News (BMN)
While change has always existed, it does seem that we are currently living through a time of tremendous uncertainty. Our reaction to change is frequently negative. People fear the unknown and such uncertainty breeds unrest. A clear example of this is

BMF Young Merchants Group – the next generation  

by Glenn Paddison, BMF Young Merchants Chairman
19 February 2019

Glenn Paddison

What a great year 2018 was for the BMF celebrating 40 years since its formation and 110th year as a Trade Association. The year provided a number of fabulous events to mark the special occasion, one of which saw the BMF Young Merchants host their very first Young Merchants Conference. The event was held at the NEC during National Construction Week in October and proved to be a great success attracting 150 delegates from current, past and potential Young Merchant members.  

I was honoured to have been voted by my peers to take on the role of Chairman for the Young Merchants Group at the Young Merchants Conference and I am really looking forward supporting the group over the next few years, to continue the great work that has been done in raising awareness of the group and the opportunities it can provide. I’m also delighted to have Joanne Callow from Kanuf Insulation on hand to help in her new role as Vice Chair of the group.   

2019 is now in full swing and we are looking forward to our first meeting of the year which will be held at The Talasey Group in Doncaster. We will be taking advantage of their new purpose-built academy and attendees can expect to be part of a very practical meet, designed in a way that is hoped will provide everyone the opportunity to take something away that will improve their understanding of leading a highly successful team. We are expecting good attendance at this meeting and hope to officially welcome some new Young Merchants following their involvement in the conference last year.  

We are thrilled to be able to announce that Knauf have kindly sponsored our International Trip for 2019, one of the highlights for this coming year for the Young Merchants Group. The trip will see a delegation of Young Merchants head out to Toulouse to visit Knauf’s manufacturing facilities as well as calling into local builders merchants to see how they operate.  

Whilst the meeting and trips are important educationally and are networking opportunities; there is a much greater purpose for the next generation of the industry that we hope the Young Merchants Group can influence. Youth recruitment is a key area of focus for the BMF in 2019, it is crucial that we attract new talent into our vibrant and diverse sector. I have hopes that the Young Merchants can be ambassadors for the Industry to showcase the many benefits there are to be had in the Building Materials Supply Industry. Another ambition is to foster greater ties with European Builders Merchants. Despite the uncertain geopolitical times ahead with Europe there is no reason why we cannot unite our European counterparts through UFEMAT which is building stronger ties with the BMF. The opportunities to network and collaborate with these businesses will surely be a benefit, when looking at efficiencies and best practice in our respective roles.  

All in all, there are lots of opportunities and challenges ahead in 2019 and I look forward to the BMF Young Merchants having a helping hand in the progression of our sector for years to come.  

If anybody would like to apply to join the Young Merchants please visit our Young Merchants page or contact to apply and he will be happy to help.
New BMF Young Merchants Group Chairman Glenn Paddison (of MKM) talks about plans for the Young Merchants Group over the coming few years.

Where does my Rainy Day Trust donation go?

12 February 2019 
Bryan Clover, CEO of the Rainy Day Trust, on how crucial funding our industry charity is  

Rainy Day Trust

How do you spend my money?
Who benefits or is it just gathering dust somewhere in a bank account?

I get asked those questions all the time and they deserve an honest answer.  There was a time when the Rainy Day Trust focussed solely on grant-making, either one off grants to meet an immediate need, or ongoing grants to help people over the longer term.  When your washing machine breaks and you can’t afford a new one, we can replace it, but if your kids need school uniforms a few months later you still won’t be able to afford them because the underlying problem hasn’t changed; you still can’t afford them because you don’t have sufficient cash.  What we do now is deliver a series of programmes of support that aim to tackle that underlying problem and help you to help yourself.   

How much money you have is a double-sided coin – you either need to earn more or reduce what you routinely spend. We help people do both of those things.  We can help you earn more by upskilling or re-training you. We can pay for courses or help you with CV writing, to make your application that bit better than the other guy’s. We help apprentices during their training and improve pass rates, giving them a skill for life.   

To reduce your outgoings we can offer you free debt advice, which will help you re-schedule your debt making it more affordable; importantly it can help prevent bankruptcy which can have a massive impact on your future potential – try getting a mobile phone contract when you’ve been made bankrupt or have a CCJ against you. Our winter fuel package not only pays £250 direct to your energy supplier so that you can go into the winter knowing that you can turn the heating on, but it also pays for a boiler and heating system service and installs a corrosion inhibitor. This can reduce your heating bills by 10-15%.

The housing advice, free counselling and free legal advice can reduce the stress and anxiety that you may be feeling and so reduce the risk of pressures at work, so making you more ‘employable’ because you are in a better place mentally. 

So what does your donation buy? 

£35 pays for 5 telephone counselling sessions, £50 pays for an hour’s legal advice, £80 buys the school uniform for a child, £120 a new fridge, £300 a new washing machine, £460 a new laptop and MS Office for an apprentice. £1,200 pays for the annual license of our welfare benefits checker that helps hundreds of people every year. 

But that just talks about what we can offer, not what we actually spend the money on. Each and every year we help hundreds of home improvement employees, past and present, through all of our programmes. Last year we helped one man who had lost his wife at a very young age. We were able to help with new white goods and school uniforms, debt advice, bereavement counselling and much more. Another applicant asked us for help with rent arrears which had built up because of long-term illness. By intervening with the landlord we literally got the keys back as he was being evicted. We kept the roof over his head. A young lad had left a young offenders’ institution and while in there had discovered that he had a talent for carpentry. We were able to buy him a set of tools so that he could practice at home for his apprenticeship and now according to his mentor he has turned a corner because he loves what he does.  

But just like your personal money, what we don’t spend the donations on is just as important. We DON’T waste it on swanky London offices and huge rents. We don’t have a massive staff to pay salaries for – there are now three of us, one full time, one on 4 days a week and our new Fundraising Manager on 3 days a week. We don’t spend a fortune on marketing and advertising because we work closely with the trade publications to get free articles whenever we can. 

This year, once again, we will be running a budget deficit because the number of people that we help is growing rapidly – we spend three times as much now on helping people as we did three years ago.  And we expect that growth rate to continue. Which, in turn, means that we have to be even cleverer when it comes to saving money and raise more to meet the need.  There’s the rub – MEET THE NEED! Not want, need. I’ve said it time and again – having to make a choice about whether you heat your home or eat is something that simply shouldn’t happen in 2019 Britain but it does. I have seen homes where there is ice on the INSIDE of the windows in the morning because it is so cold.  This person wasn’t lazy, or drinking. They were in their eighties and were desperately trying to survive on a pathetic pension.  But don’t worry, it’ll never happen to you, will it?

Contact the Rainy Day Trust on 0203 192 0486, via or
Bryan Clover, CEO of the Rainy Day Trust, explains how crucial funding our industry charity is - who benefits and how the money is spent, such as RDT support programmes.

Sharing the knowledge with BMF Forums

5 February 2019  

Richard EllithorneBMF’s Membership Services Director, Richard Ellithorne explains how BMF Forums are adding value to Members’ businesses  

The BMF’s mission is to help members to excel at providing materials and services for building a better future. In line with this the BMF is working hard to create personalised packages of value-added services to meet individual members’ needs more effectively.  

The development of BMF Forums over the past four years is just one example of how we are developing services to engage members in a variety of sectors and job functions.  Since the first BMF Forum was launched in 2015 the creation of range of such targeted events has played a key role in engaging with members.   

We currently run fifteen Forums – including the latest which focuses specifically on Brexit. These service a wide variety of interest groups and play a major part in broadening the BMF’s relevance and appeal to different sectors of the industry by highlighting the Federation’s value to a wide range of professionals operating within its membership base.  

BMF Forums excel at sharing best practice, knowledge and information for our members. Because they are geared to specific audiences, they provide a unique platform to discuss the latest and most relevant issues for each group. Furthermore, input from members at the various Forums gives them a powerful voice outside the industry. Providing members with an outlet to voice their views and concerns enables the BMF to hear from them directly, which in turn assists our campaigning work to inform government and influence legislative policy on behalf of members. 

There are currently six sector specific Forums: Plumbing & Heating, Timber, Roofing & Insulation, Decorative Products, Civils & Drainage and Bricks & Blocks. Two of which, Plumbing & Heating and Timber, are accompanied by their own newsletter produced both in digital and hard copy for each event. 

To encourage a wider network of employees within member organisation to engage directly both with BMF and their peers, we also run eight function-specific Forums aimed at departmental managers: Branch Manager, Finance, HR, Health & Safety, Transport, Marketing, Technology and Supplier & Service.  

Each forum aims to meet twice a year and is designed to provide valuable information that attendees can take back to their businesses. They are free for members to attend except the Branch Managers Forum which is a chargeable two-day event. While they are facilitated by the BMF, they are very much run by and for our members. Each forum is chaired by a BMF member with expertise in that area and he or she will be instrumental in setting the day’s agenda. We may also undertake an advance mini survey of a hot topic being presented at the Forum, with the survey results revealed at the event. This helps to ensure that the issues being discussed will have the widest relevance to those attending.  

For example, at a recent Branch Manager Forum a key topic of discussion was Fraud Prevention and Vigilance. This helped merchant members to share the various security threats they had faced and discuss how to prevent them in the future.  Another value-add comes from the targeted delegate packs created for attendees of specific forums. For example, merchants attending the Finance Forum receive our annual Key Performance Indicators report, while those attending the HR Forum take away our annual Remuneration Survey report.  

The BMF’s aim is to increase the value we add to our members’ businesses through greater segmentation of our membership base – ensuring that the services we provide for each member are those that are the most relevant to their business.  Our sector and functional Forums covering industry hot topics and legislative updates play a key role in this.   

Last year a total of 1,072 delegates attended 23 BMF Forum events. If you would like to join them, you can find out more about any BMF Forum at, or for other benefits of BMF Membership contact Richard Ellithorne, BMF Membership Services Director at or call 02476 854980 .

This article appeared in the January 2019 edition of Builders Merchants Journal (BMJ)
The BMF’s mission is to help members to excel at providing materials and services to build a better future. It's working hard to create personalised packages of value-added services to meet members’ needs.

Engaging with members–Brexit, building materials careers & diversity

by John Newcomb, BMF CEO
29 January 2019 

John NewcombEvery new year brings a fresh start. For the BMF this means building on one of the most successful years in our history, which was topped by being named Best Trade Association in the Association Excellence Awards.

During the first half of the year we will be driving the implementation of the Building Excellence programme, announced at Members Day last September, through which we aim to help our members excel at providing materials and services. Leading up to the BMF All Industry Conference in Dubrovnik in June – which also has the theme Building Excellence – we will be undertaking a detailed analysis of our membership and their current patterns of engagement with their trade body.   

Our objective is to ensure that everyone gets the most from their membership, with services and support that are most relevant to their business. To do so, first we must understand why some companies are more engaged than others at present and, following on from this, tailor specific packages of services to support different “clusters” of members.   

European focus  

The impact of Brexit, in whatever form it takes, has been an ongoing concern for many members. With so many unknowns surrounding the process, the BMF ran a half-day Forum for members on 23 January, which considered the impact of Brexit on VAT and Customs & Excise, on UK timber supply and building materials generally as well as the wider UK economy.   

Europe is hugely important to our sector and the possibilities arising from the country’s new trading environment will no doubt feature again in a number of presentations and discussions at the BMF All industry Conference in June.  

The UK may be loosening its ties with Europe, but at the BMF we are strengthening our own European links as we believe it is even more important than ever to work more closely with our European colleagues and trade bodies.  This is why I am personally delighted that 2019 will be my first full year as President of UFEMAT, the European Association of National Builders Merchants Associations and Manufacturers.   

One of my main objectives is to create a European Merchant Group to promote greater exchange of knowledge and experience.  In line with this, we have invited our first speaker from UFEMAT to take part in our industry Forum at the BMF All Industry Conference.  I will be taking a group of merchants to the UFEMAT Conference in Montreux, Switzerland in October and we will be including merchants from Belgium in our Young Merchants Group annual overseas trip, this year to Knauf’s facility in Toulouse, France.  We are also arranging two benchmarking visits for European merchants to the UK, with a focus on Heavyside in March and Lightside in October, the latter involving our colleagues in FEST, which represents the national associations of wholesalers engaged in the distribution of plumbing and heating products across Europe.  


This year will also see the relaunch of our industry recruitment website, rebranded and no longer focusing solely on youth recruitment. The relaunch follows policy research with members who told us they wanted the BMF to help promote the widest possible range of job opportunities in our industry, fostering diversity and inclusion, helping members to recruit a workforce from a wide range of backgrounds and experience.    

This article appeared in the January 2019 edition of Builders Merchants News (BMN)
Every new year brings a fresh start. For the BMF this means building on one of the most successful years in our history, which was topped by being named Best Trade Association in the Association Excellence Awards

Building blocks of knowledge: online training for merchants  

by Richard Ellithorne, BMF Membership Services Director
22 January 2019

BMF Building BlocksOnline learning is a powerful and cost-effective way to take in and retain a large amount of information, making it well suited to product and technical training. Some 80% of merchant staff in the UK have access to online learning systems, which are used to build skills and knowledge. The BMF’s latest training offering, which can be delivered either via BMF Campus of via the merchants’ own Learning Management System, will add significantly to this knowledge base and will be accessible from work or from home.  

The new BMF Building Blocks series is an online training programme designed to replace the MOL distance learning workbook series which was retired in 2018. While MOLs had their day as a popular learning form, they had dated both in terms of content and mode of delivery. This provides the BMF and their e-learning partner, Cortexa, with an excellent opportunity to create new rich media content and to collaborate with BMF’s supplier members to ensure the latest technologies and techniques are included in the programme.  

The Building Blocks series is designed to introduce apprentices and other new starters to the intricacies of life in a builders’ merchant. It starts with foundation blocks that cover planning, regulations and structural products, moves on to further blocks that cover key product groups and ultimately builds into a comprehensive guide to the industry and products stocked and sold by every type of merchant.  

Fully accredited

Each multi-media training Block combines a range of video, animations and interactive content to bring the subjects to life. The content is further reinforced with programmed learning in the form of downloadable reading/reference material and weblinks. Each e-learning Block includes knowledge checks and practical coursework and is completed with a final assessment. Successful completion will earn credits for the learner towards an online Award.  

Cortexa is an approved centre for Occupational Awards and within two years BMF Building Blocks will be a fully accredited online programme that will define the standard of product training in the merchant industry. Twenty new e-learning Blocks or units are planned for introduction during this time and by the end of 2019, there will be sufficient Blocks available for students to combine to create an accredited Merchant Award, whereby candidates have to complete at least 4 Blocks and pass a final exam to achieve the standard.   

Early Programmes

The units will be released in three phases. Phase 1 will comprise seven Blocks, with the first three ready to launch. They are:  

  • An Introduction to Residential Construction Part 1: Covering planning, regulations, groundwork and the masonry elements of house building. This Block is sponsored by the Concrete Blocks Association.
  • An Introduction to Residential Construction Part 2: Covering timber in construction, joinery basics, roofing and fixings. This block is sponsored by the TTF and a number of Supplier Members.
  • Heating and Hot Water Comfort: Covering Central heating principles and design, regulations, heating and environmental controls, hot water storage and renewable energy sources. Sponsorship packages for this Block are available.  

Phase 1 will be completed with Building Blocks on Below Ground Drainage, Buildings Insulation, Cement and Plaster and Customer Care.
Phase 2 will comprise units on Bricks and Mortar, Doors, Windows and Stairs, Landscaping, Underfloor Heating, Roofwork, Above Ground Drainage and Bathrooms.
Phase 3 will cover Aggregates and Blocks, Lightside Materials, Tube Fittings and Flanges, Plastic Pipes and Components, Plumbers Brassware and Commercial Practice.  

One of the biggest challenges with any training content is keeping it up to date, so the Building Blocks programme aims to future proof the content by forming partnership groups and sponsor opportunities for BMF Supplier Members looking to get involved.  

If you would like to get involved in the BMF Building Blocks programme – either as a learner or content supplier - contact Richard Ellithorne, BMF Membership Services Director on 02476 854980, or email  

BMF training ranges from formal Apprenticeships and sector-specific Diplomas, Degrees and a Masters Degrees in Merchant Leadership and Strategy, to on-line product knowledge and other specialist skills training.  

This article appeared in the January 2019 edition of Professional Builders Merchant (PBM)
Online learning is a powerful and cost-effective way to take in and retain a large amount of information, making it well suited to product and technical training. The BMF’s latest training offering will add significantly to this knowledge base.

Who needs a stiff upper lip?  The impact of stress and anxiety

by Bryan Clover, CEO of The Rainy Day Trust
15 January 2019  

Stress and anxietyWhy do we do it?

Why do we struggle on in silence when simply reaching out for help can make a world of difference? Is it stigma? Is it pride? Is it a bloke thing? It doesn’t really matter why, it matters because the effect of stress and anxiety in their various forms has a huge impact on our lives, and as importantly on our livelihoods. On your livelihoods.  

Awareness of mental health issues is growing thankfully and more people are asking for help

The big problems like PTSD, bipolar disorder or ADHD grab the headlines, but it’s good old-fashioned stress that is most widespread. The pressure of work, family problems, bereavement, finding sufficient work all add up to a pretty unhealthy atmosphere.  If our brains are diverted from the day job, we don’t function properly and our work is affected. That can lead to some pretty one-sided conversations with managers which, ironically, just make everything worse. We start worrying about losing our job which can be incredibly self-destructive.  It rapidly becomes a vicious downward spiral.  

Let me give you a very personal example, drawn on my own experience. In October 2017, our 13 year old daughter started getting headaches. We took her to the doctor and they told us not to worry as it was just puberty-related migraines. We went on holiday to Spain. Twelve hours after arriving we were in A&E. Eight hours later we were in intensive care, and a few hours after that they did an emergency operation to save her life to remove part of a massive brain tumour. Fast forward through a month in the Bristol Royal Children’s Hospital, and 6 weeks at home, and Evie died on 11 Jan 18.  The emotional trauma that we went through, and are still going through, has led to an enormous amount of stress.  So much so that many months later I am still not functioning properly; my brain is constantly questioning what happened and asking ‘Why?’. I’m exhausted all the time and don’t sleep.  Now what that leads to is without the support of our GP and months of counselling, I wouldn’t be functioning at all.  It affects work, home life, everything.  But I recognised early on that something was wrong and asked for help. 

There is help out there.

All you have to do is ask.  The Rainy Day Trust doesn’t just give financial support, although that in itself can help alleviate those money worries, especially if you are ill or off work.  We can also offer free telephone counselling, free debt advice, an hour’s free legal advice, housing advice and support for those affected by cancer.  From a mental health perspective, arranging a face to face counselling session can be difficult fitting in with work commitments, so telephone counselling is really flexible.  We give 5 free 30 minute sessions over the telephone. If at the end of that you want more, just ask. Or if you need face to face counselling we can pay for that if you can’t afford it or can’t find a charity that can give it locally.

So take it form me, you don’t need to keep a stiff upper lip. You don’t need to bottle it all up and pretend the problem doesn’t exist, because you know what? If you do, it’s going to build up and bite you in the backside sometime sooner or later. Tackle it now and get your life back. Take it from someone who has experienced the most horrific year possible, you don’t have to deal with stress or mental health issues alone, and neither should you.

Take a look at our website, or give us a call on 0203 192 0486. We are here to help because we care.
Why do we do it? Why do we struggle on in silence when simply reaching out for help can make a world of difference? Is it stigma? Is it pride? Is it a bloke thing? It doesn’t really matter why, it matters because the effect of stress and anxiety ...

BMF training for suppliers  

by BMF Training Coordinator, Paige Godsell
8 January 2019

BMF training for suppliersMany BMF Training Courses are equally relevant to our supplier members as well as builders’ merchants.  Others are specifically designed for supplier members.  For the first time, we have produced a dedicated BMF Supplier Training Prospectus detailing the full range of over 60 training courses available for this member group.  

The new BMF Supplier Training Prospectus covers training programmes in three key areas, Management & Leadership, Sales and Transport.  It also includes a training Roadmap that highlights courses that work well together and charts various paths that will help an individual to progress from an apprenticeship to senior management.  

The new Prospectus features a number of specialist courses developed purely for supplier members including “Selling into Merchants”, “Developing a Sales Strategy” and “Supplier Negotiation”.  Other new courses featured include “Quicker, Better Meetings”, “Key Account Management”, “Sales Coaching and Performance Management” and “How a House is Built”.  

Each course is clearly described, outlining the purpose and objectives as well as the staff who would benefit most from its content, and further development opportunities for those attending.  Importantly, they are designed to be flexible in the way they can be delivered, with open courses that can be held at regional venues such as the growing number of BMF Regional Centres of Excellence, or delivered “in-company” as a truly bespoke service.  

Details of the BMF Apprenticeship Plus offer, with options for both smaller companies and larger levy-paying organisations through the BMF’s Apprenticeship Training Agency or its Levy Management Service, are also contained in the Prospectus.  

To get a copy of the Prospectus or find out more about any aspect of BMF training, contact or on 02456 854980, or click here to view the courses online.

This article appeared in the December 2018 edition of Professional Builders’ Merchant (PBM)
Many BMF Training Courses are equally relevant to our supplier members as well as builders’ merchants. Others are specifically designed for supplier members. For the first time, we have produced a dedicated BMF Supplier Training Prospectus ...

Women in construction

2 January 2019
By Sophie Beard, Account Executive, MRA Marketing

Sophie Beard, MRA MarketingThe construction industry has come a long way over the years in reflecting diversity. However, there is still a long way to go – particularly in encouraging women to work in the sector.  

Women play an important part in construction, but the industry needs to do more to make construction an attractive and exciting place for women to work. A good place to start is by listening to women to find out what they value. A recent survey on ‘Women in Construction’ organised by CIPR Construction and Property Special Interest Group – which I took part in - clearly identified key emerging challenges, which need to be addressed.  

What is clear from the survey is that these challenges can be overcome, particularly as an overwhelming majority of respondents to the survey (77%) felt proud to work within construction. It’s a sentiment that is becoming more and more evident. Take the recent ‘Women in Merchanting’ Round Table Debate for example. Organised by Builders’ Merchants News and hosted by the BMF, 13 leading women in the industry discussed how the industry can attract and retain more female employees. The women applauded some great aspects of the industry and discussed how to work together to push the industry along a more diverse path. However, a recurring theme within the CIPR survey and the Round Table is that our industry doesn’t ‘shout’ loud enough about the great things it is doing and the exciting opportunities it offers.  

Flexible working is another key area that needs to be addressed in order to attract more women in construction. Only 29% of respondents agreed flexible hours is a real option in the sector. To support women, the industry needs to promote and encourage flexible working to allow a balance of home and work life. People, not just women, value flexibility and understanding, so to get the best out of our employees the industry needs to move with the times and take the new working life on board. The next generation of workers will simply expect flexible working and any roles not offering this will be at a disadvantage.  

With existing low numbers of women in construction there are few accessible mentors for women coming into the sector. Ongoing support to women reflects a challenge in the survey results, as 80% of respondents said they lacked mentors and sponsors. To guide and help women through construction we need to share our knowledge and experience of the industry with one another. This could be through a networking group, which 63% of the women taking part in this survey felt is absent from their organisation.  

Construction is becoming more diverse, but this survey shows there is still a long way to go. This will only be achieved by listening to women to understand what they want, as well as looking outside of the construction industry to see what works well in other sectors, and incorporate this in construction.

The BMF will hold its next Women in Merchanting Round Table on 13 February 2019. More details and videos of the discussions will be announced to members in due course.

The construction industry has come a long way over the years in reflecting diversity. However, there is still a long way to go – particularly in encouraging women to work in the sector.

The BMF celebrates five years working with the Samaritans  

by the Coventry Samaritans
26 December 2018

SamaritansFive years ago the Coventry Samaritans branch were looking for somewhere to train new volunteers. They needed modern premises with one large room with an overhead projector for group training along with several separate rooms for face to face skills training.

Mike Ballinger, director of local member Builders Supply Stores was asked by his wife Sarah, a Samaritan volunteer, if he knew of anywhere. Having been to the official opening of the BMF shortly before, he asked if the BMF could help the Samaritans. Mike says, “I recall sending an email to Peter Matthews (BMF Secretary at the time) one Monday morning and getting a positive reply within half an hour. Even better, was the fact that there was to be no charge, an enormous help to a local charity. Shortly afterwards, I also joined Samaritans and was one of the first to undergo training at the BMF.”  

The Samaritans are a national charity operating a 24 hour helpline, open every day of the year. Their mission is to reduce the number of people who die each year from suicide. Sadly over 6,000 people take their lives each year - that is one every 90 minutes. Two thirds of those are men and the highest risk group are those aged 45–59, a profile that largely reflects that of many builders’ merchants.  

For men under the age of 45, suicide is the largest cause of death exceeding those caused by accident or illness.  

Samaritans want to help anyone who is in distress and despair, not just those who are suicidal. Indeed, they like people to contact them before things get too much for them. Help is provided by listening. They don’t give advice. Instead they provide emotional support in a non-judgemental manner. The service is confidential, subject to any safeguarding concerns that may arise. Samaritans get over 5 million contacts per year, mostly by phone on the Freephone number 116 123, but also by text, email, letter and face to face.  

Samaritans work with Network Rail, the Prison Service, the NHS, and the Police. Samaritans also visit large events such as music festivals - even in large crowds people can feel lonely and distressed. Coventry branch, for example, gets nearly 30,000 contacts a year and is one of 200 throughout the UK and the Republic of Ireland, comprising some 20,000 volunteers.  

No-one wants a friend or work colleague to take their life, nor do they want them to suffer from poor mental or emotional health.  

Someone who is suffering may not be concentrating and could become unsafe and be involved in an accident. Samaritans can come and talk to employees and show them how they can help. They can provide posters for staffrooms, leaflets, drinks mats and cards.   BMF CEO John Newcomb says, ”Five years on, at a time when mental health awareness is increasing, the BMF is still proud to support the Samaritans by allowing them to continue using the BMF’s meeting facilities.”  

Trevor, the Samaritans Coventry Branch Director, is quoted as saying, “We are enormously grateful to the BMF. Our volunteer numbers have been increasing, we are now training 3 cohorts each year and we could not manage without the excellent facilities so generously provided by the BMF. Having so many separate spaces for skills training improves the quality of training and thus enhances the experience that our many callers receive.” 

For more information please visit or call 116 123 (UK)    

This article appeared in the Winter 2018 edition of One Voice
Five years ago the Coventry Samaritans branch were looking for somewhere to train new volunteers. They needed modern premises for group training along with several separate rooms for face to face skills training. The BMF were happy to offer their pre

The future for plumbing and heating merchants  

Mark Bradley18 December 2018

Mark Bradley, Managing Director of Plumbase and BMF Plumbing and Heating Forum Chairman, shares his views on what the future has in-store for specialist Plumbing & Heating merchants and how we plan to grow our forum.  

Plumbers' merchants in the UK have been supporting installers for generations and this is currently a thriving sector of construction merchanting.  A large reason for this is the limitlessness of the technical experience and product knowledge held by teams at the trade counter, which is backed by an excellent depth of stock profiles and availability. Branch teams also have a strong local awareness of projects happening in the area including the ability to make valuable suggestions when it comes to what installers need to be able to do their job done well. Overall, this is what makes the relationship much more personal and strategic when compared to the consumer retail market which tends to be more of a transactional relationship. Merchants will always go above and beyond to ensure that installers can always get the job done on time, within budget and without any hassle.  

When trading with time-pressed installers who run their own businesses, going the extra mile to source the right products, suggest alternatives, and liaise with suppliers to find out information quickly really does takes the pressure off tradespeople and business owners. Likewise, investing in valuable and free-to-access resources, such as having technical information like boiler manuals all in one place online, free delivery options direct to site, non-interest-bearing credit facilities and being able to solve product queries and or answer queries by working with manufacturers on the behalf of an installer is essential to running their business. Merchants continue to have excellent access to our supplier network and so it isn’t uncommon for installers to visit their local branch with product questions and queries. As a result, each merchant team becomes an extension of the plumber or heating engineer’s own business. Having a direct line to trusted branch teams with decades of industry experience is reassuring for our installer customers, and over time, a mutually beneficial relationship is built - where we are on-hand to find product solutions and offer quality advice with the installer returning to merchant with repeat business as loyalty and trust is built over years.  

From experience, we know that installers value being able to visit their local branch to check they are getting the right product at the right price. This is a vital way of working for them that they really value, appreciate and need, that is what they tell us continuously. Some installers are using online purchasing and account management now as new methods of procurement establish themselves and we are ensuring we meet that demand, this is especially the case for those SME’s just embarking on their career in the industry.  

It will be essential for plumber’s merchants to continuously adapt and change to be able to continue to provide the best service possible in all its forms. This is why we incessantly work with our customers and suppliers, to ensure we are offering the right level of support to them. We then take these learnings and use it to improve our product & service offerings ( the merchant value proposition )  online e-commerce channels including the skills and knowledge of our local teams.   

Merchants always take the long-term view that if you look after customers today, they will stay with you for the next 40 years. For plumber’s merchants, the journey continues, and we’ll always mould and shift our approach based around the needs of our customers today, tomorrow, and beyond.  I am proud to be part of such a dynamic industry and feel very privileged to recently become the Chairman of the BMF Plumbing and Heating forum.  

The BMF do a fantastic job organising forum events, enlisting guest speakers from in and outside the industry and putting on great events throughout the year.  Our forum provides us with a superb opportunity to drive change within the industry and shape our future. A key priority for me is to develop and increase attendance to the forums promoting inclusion for all members, providing a relevant platform for everyone to contribute, share ideas and continue to build robust relationships with our loyal manufacturer partners.  I look forward to seeing you at future forums.  

You can secure your place at the next BMF Plumbing and Heating Forum here
Mark Bradley, Managing Director of Plumbase and BMF Plumbing and Heating Forum Chairman, shares his views on what the future has in-store for specialist Plumbing & Heating merchants and how we plan to grow our forum.

Training merchants to succeed  

11 December 2018

BMF trainingThe quality and variety of training and development courses offered is one of the prime reasons cited for joining the BMF. Many merchants use BMF courses to develop their teams from apprentices to senior managers. We like to think that they are all winners as they are building excellence within their own business, but the BMF’s annual Awards Dinner in September provides an ideal opportunity to recognise merchants who have gone the extra mile in their commitment to supporting their teams through BMF training.  

This year MGM Timber was named BMF Training Company of the Year, with Chandler Building Supplies Highly Commended as a close runner up.  

MGM, the largest independent timber merchant in Scotland, joined the BMF at the beginning of 2017 shortly after announcing ambitious expansion plans. They lost no time in in choosing the BMF as their training provider as they wanted merchant focussed training that would be of practical benefit for their growing business.  In little over a year they have made giant strides.  

They are committed to training new recruits and younger staff with 11 current employees in training through BMF Apprenticeships Plus Apprenticeship training Agency (ATA) to SVQ levels. Developing managers and potential managers is another priority.They now have a total of 10 team members studying for the BMF Diploma in Merchanting. In the last year they have also undertaken 10 days of in-house training to upskill 60 members of staff in key areas of the business using our Essential Sales, Managing for Success and Yard Foreman’s Toolkit courses.  

MGM Timber are now training at all levels within their organisation and the breadth and depth of that training helped them to claim the 2018 BMF Training Company of the Year Award.  

Sussex-based Chandler Building Supplies was Highly Commended by the judges for a well-crafted training programme, again aligned to specific staff graded levels throughout their business.   

They have worked closely with BMF regional manager, Alex Clifford, and BMF tutors to develop a number of in-house programmes. These include an innovative two year roll-on training plan for new starters which combines 12 set courses to form a rounded development programme.  

Young achievers  

The BMF Awards Dinner also celebrates the achievements of young people who have recently entered the industry or are taking the next steps up their chosen career ladder.  

Joe Etherington of Bridport Building Supplies, BMF Apprentice of the Year Level 2. Joe, who is undertaking a Trade Business Services apprenticeship through the BMF ATA is excelling in all aspects and has impressed customers, colleagues and his training provider alike with his diligence and attention to detail.  
Thomas Smith of Manningham Concrete in Bradford, BMF Apprentice of the Year Level 3. Thomas is undertaking a Digital Marketing apprenticeship, again through the BMF ATA which provides a gateway to a diverse range of training opportunities.  Thomas is recognised as a hardworking, goal-oriented team player by his colleagues who have been impressed by his progress and the goals he has achieved to date.  
Philip Long of John A Stephens in Nottingham, top performing student on the BMF Post Graduate Diploma in Leadership & Strategy. Philip was awarded a Distinction in this course and achieved the highest mark.  
Steve Shorey of Alsford Timber, top performer on the BMF Masters Degree in Leadership & StrategySteve amply demonstrates the power of personal development.  Having completed the BMF Postgraduate Diploma in Leadership & Strategy in 2017 he then went on to study and achieve his Masters Degree in July 2018.  

Congratulations to all our Award winners.    

BMF training ranges from formal Apprenticeships and sector-specific Diplomas, Degrees and a Masters Degrees in Merchant Leadership and Strategy, to online product knowledge and other specialist skills training. To find out more about any aspect of BMF training, contact or on 02456 854980, or click here

This article appeared in the November 2018 edition of Professional Builders’ Merchant (PBM)
The quality and variety of training and development courses offered is one of the prime reasons cited for joining the BMF. Many merchants use BMF courses to develop their teams from apprentices to senior managers.

Autumn Party Political Conferences 

Brett AmphlettInter-city BMF engage the politicians

As memories of the World Cup in Russia faded, the BMF went to the Party Conferences in Brighton, Liverpool and Birmingham. This summer, BMF members were canvassed on policy priorities and the BMF used these to shape its lobbying.

The backdrop and mood of each was very different. The Liberal Democrat gathering was poorly-attended, with only die-hard party members there. Labour was upbeat, with many more commercial visitors present than in recent years. The Conservatives were tense and inward-looking, making it hard to engage, with party members squabbling over their version of Brexit.  

In this blog, Brett Amphlett (BMF Policy and Public Affairs Manager) describes who he and John Newcomb (BMF CEO) met and the main topics of relevance to BMF interests:  

People, places and policies

To illustrate the extent of our lobbying of Westminster, Whitehall and government in the nations and regions, we thought you would like to see some of those we met.  

Liberal Democrats in Brighton  

•       Lord Andrew Stunell, Construction Spokesman
•       Baroness Sue Garden, Further Education & Skills Spokeswoman
•       Lord John Shipley, Housing and Northern Powerhouse Spokesman
•       Lord Chris Fox, Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy Spokesman  

The Lib Dems want another Referendum and were scathing of the Government’s handling of negotiations and preparations. With just 12 MPs in the Commons and only one MEP in Strasbourg, the Party relies on 105 peers in the House of Lords. On policy, the BMF discussed:  

•     better technical education and vocational training & skills (inc. apprenticeships)
•     re-introducing the Zero Carbon Homes Standard and improving the energy and thermal performance of buildings
•     offsite manufacturing to increase the number of homes using modern methods of construction
•     upholding laws on environmental protection and consumer and product standards post-Brexit
•     ways that companies can improve the diversity and inclusion of their workers.  

Labour in Liverpool  

The BMF was fortunate to talk to:

•     John McDonnell MP, Shadow Chancellor
•     Peter Dowd MP, Shadow Chief Secretary
•     Nia Griffiths MP, Shadow Defence Secretary
•     Angela Rayner MP, Shadow Education Secretary
•     Lesley Laird MP, Shadow Scottish Secretary
•     Alan Whitehead MP, Shadow Energy and Climate Change Minister
•     Jack Dromey MP, Shadow Pensions Minister
•     Bill Esterson MP, Shadow Business and International Trade Minister
•     Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London
•     James Murray, Deputy Mayor of London for Housing
•     Steve Rotheram, Liverpool City Region Mayor
•     Marvin Rees, Mayor of Bristol
•     Cllr Ian Ward, Leader of Birmingham City Council
•     Cllr Christopher Hammond, Leader of Southampton City Council
•     Lord John Prescott, former Deputy Prime Minister.  

Labour wants a General Election and acted like a government-in-waiting.  

Shadow Ministers had carefully-worked out (and costed) policies to announce and explain to visitors like the BMF.  

Our focus was plans by cities obligated to improve air quality by tackling roadside NO2 emissions. Over the summer, we responded to consultations from Birmingham, Derby, Leeds, Nottingham and Southampton Councils. In Liverpool, we met the Mayor and Deputy of Liverpool City Region, and the Leader of Southampton City Council, to make our case.  

The BMF understands why it is a serious issue and we support moves to improve air quality, but government must be willing to work with the BMF and its members. Merchants have no choice but to use diesel and we want politicians to grasp there are no realistic alternatives at present.  

The BMF has built a reputation as a leading voice on this issue, nationally  and locally. We share common cause with (for example) the Freight Transport Association, British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association, Associated British Ports, and bus and taxi operators who all use diesel.  

The availability of compliant vehicles is central to our arguments. By the time we get to January 2020, it may not have proved possible for you to adapt - perhaps for technical reasons or no suitable vehicles were available to buy or lease - or there was an insufficient number made to meet demand. A lack of market capacity means that firms will be competing for compliant vehicles before city controls begin in 13 months time.  

Conservatives in Birmingham  

As the party in Government, security was strict, but we were able to talk to:

•     Phillip Hammond MP, Chancellor of the Exchequer
•     Chris Grayling MP, Transport Secretary
•     Dominic Raab MP, (then) Brexit Secretary
•     Robert Buckland MP, Solicitor General
•     Alok Sharma MP, Employment Minister
•     Kit Malthouse MP, Housing and Planning Minister
•     John Glen MP, Treasury Minister
•     Thérèse Coffey MP, Environment Minister
•     David Rutley MP, Forestry Minister
•     Andrew Jones MP, Party Vice-Chairman for Business
•     Neil Parish MP, Environment Select Committee Chairman
•     Andy Street, Mayor of the West Midlands
•     James Palmer, Mayor of Cambridgeshire & Peterborough
•     Ben Houchen, Mayor of the Tees Valley
•     Cllr Lord Gary Porter, Chairman of Local Government Association
•     Lord Mike Whitby, former Leader of Birmingham City Council
•     Cllr Robert Alden, Leader of Opposition on Birmingham City Council.  

The Conservatives had a slew of announcements. In his platform speech, the Secretary of State, James Brokenshire MP, announced several of relevance to BMF members - not all of them good.  

On planning permission, the Minister will consult on the planning system, land use and vacant buildings.  

This includes a new permitted development right to extend upwards on flats, shops and offices. No one wants a repeat of bad high-rise housing, but better use can be made of existing buildings. In the BMF members’ policy priorities survey, 74% voted for simplifying and speeding-up planning permission as their top priority.  

On post-Grenfell fire safety, the Secretary of State confirmed a ban on using combustible materials in the external walls of high-rise residential buildings. A change in the Building Regulations will mean some materials will not be allowed in new high-rise homes, hospitals, care homes and student accommodation above 18 metres.  

In her speech, the Prime Minister announced that local authority borrowing restrictions will be removed, enabling them to build as many as 10,000 extra new council houses a year. Removing the cap on what councils can borrow against their Housing Revenue Account assets is very good news. Narrowing the gap between housing demand and supply is today’s single most important domestic priority. Ministers must use all available levers to ‘Change the Ratio’ between the small number of volume house-builders and the rest to foster a diverse, functioning market for building.  

This means freeing local authorities that for too long were seen as vital, but underused players in housing provision. The new Minister for Housing and Planning, Kit Malthouse MP, did 14 fringe meetings and met us at five of them. Mr Malthouse is MP for North West Hampshire, a rural constituency based around Andover. He has been in the job since July 2018 and is the eighth Conservative to hold the post in eight years. He joked that if his smartphone rang, he would try to finish the event before changing jobs.  

Kit Malthouse has a difficult job to deliver building 300,000 new homes a year by the mid-2020s. He has the benefit of a revised National Planning Policy Framework behind him that sets out what will and will not be allowed as developers work to narrow the gap between demand and supply.  

The Minister warned housebuilders not to become “like Kodak” suggesting if there is not more innovation, firms risk becoming obsolete. He quoted offsite manufacturing, modern methods of construction and robotic bricklayers.  

Asked what yardstick he will be judged by, Mr Malthouse said that was easy, “it’s all about numbers and I want more, better and faster.”  

Democratic Unionists in Birmingham  

The BMF was in the right place to meet former First Minister Arlene Foster, and Nigel Dodds MP, Deputy Party Leader. There was only one topic for them at the Tory Conference – continued uncertainty and suspicion over UKEU negotiations.  


In the last 9 years, the BMF has earned the right to be heard by central and local government and political parties. We enjoy good relations with politicians of all colours who take us seriously.  

Brexit dwarfs everything, but the most pressing issue is the need to boost output, employment and educational achievement in less-well performing areas, compared to London and the South East - the so-called ‘productivity puzzle’.  

Further devolution of powers and funds is very much in vogue. There are eight Metro Mayors in England that account for nearly 42% of all economic growth, covering 21 million residents. We have met five Mayors and explained how BMF members deliver for their local communities.    

This article appeared in the Winter Edition of One Voice. The posts held by senior politicians were correct at the time of going to press.  

If you would like to join the Brexit debate click here to book your place on the new BMF Brexit Forum on 23 January.
As memories of the World Cup in Russia faded, the BMF went to the Party Conferences in Brighton, Liverpool and Birmingham. This summer, BMF members were canvassed on policy priorities and the BMF used these to shape its autumn lobbying.

No content found

No content found

No content found

No content found

No content found

No content found

No content found

No content found