BMF policy updates

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)
A sense of belonging
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.

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.


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

This article first appeared in the Autumn 2019 edition of One Voice magazine
Four years of the Apprenticeship Levy
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.

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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A cabinet for housing?
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.

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?


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.


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.


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
Elections, Elections, Elections
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.

The BMF: representing your sector

4 June 2019

BMF Policy Outlook 2019One of the key roles of the BMF is to raise the profile of our supply chain to government and outline the role, value and importance of builders merchants and building material manufacturers so our members’ interests are reflected in public policy.

It is an unfortunate fact that most politicians have little understanding of how materials are distributed in order to build homes and premises for community and commerce. Representing our sector to government is essential to demonstrate that merchants are the most efficient route-to-market for these materials.

Policy Outlook

Since 2015, we have published an annual BMF Policy Outlook setting out our asks in terms of policy, regulation, tax and spending.  The content of the latest version, published in March this year, is based on a survey of BMF members. The results helped shaped the content, with further input from BMF’s Board of Directors and Regional and Forum Chairs.

BMF Policy Outlook is sent to government ministers, devolved administrations, elected mayors and local authorities. It both makes the case for our sector and signals our willingness to work in partnership on important construction, clean growth and employment policies. 

Leading on from this, subsequent consultation responses challenge wrongful assumptions and, wherever possible give alternative proposals in favour of our members. Recent examples of this include our responses to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government’s Planning Reform Package, and to Birmingham, Derby, Leeds, Nottingham and Southampton Councils on Improving Air Quality.

Possibly the most pressing problem is the need to boost output, employment and education levels in the less-well performing regions. BMF Policy Outlook represents our input to an ambitious Industrial Strategy for the trade & retail customers our members serve.


Increasingly, we are arranging face-to-face meetings to reinforce our messages.  Last year we held our first-ever parliamentary reception, marking the BMF’s landmark anniversary’s 110 years as a trade association and 40 as a Federation. Attended by 23 MPs and 7 Peers alongside BMF members, the event saw former Business Secretary Sir Vince Cable MP speaking at the start with the then Housing Secretary Sajid Javid MP replying for the Government.

We have taken MPs on a number of constituency visits to gain insight into local businesses, including Northern Ireland Minister John Penrose MP to Bradfords Building Supplies in Weston-Super-Mare, Shadow Transport Secretary, Mary Creagh MP to Howarth Timber in Wakefield, Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell MP to Lords in West London, as well as Lib Dem Party Leader, Sir Vince Cable MP to Alsford Timber in Twickenham.

And we always attend the party political conferences of the largest parties, which provide yet another opportunity to take soundings and to make our case. In addition to debates and fringe meetings, the BMF conducts one-to-one talks with MPs, Metro Mayors and other municipal leaders and party officials on construction, clean grown and employment.

React and respond on legislation

Occasionally, a story hits the headlines requiring the BMF to react quickly to put our members’ point of view - especially to rebut untrue stories or correct misleading facts.

In addition, when a topic is debated in parliament, legislation is considered, or a committee holds an inquiry, we will brief elected members. In cases of line-by-line scrutiny, it can be quite specific in nature, for example:  

- building materials - notably on brick supplies and acoustic insulation·
- new homes - notably on self- & custom-building and taxpayer-funded support
- planning permission - notably on use classes, permitted development, pre-commencement conditions, and under-resourced planning departments
- taxation - notably on reduced rates of VAT following a European court case
- vocational training and skills - notably on the new Apprenticeships’ Levy. 

Politicians say they value our input because we are a business & economic voice that speaks for companies in almost every constituency.

You can find out more about BMF’s public affairs work and download the BMF Policy Outlook 2019 here.

This article first appeared in the May 2019 edition of Builders Merchants Journal (BMJ)

The BMF: representing your sector
One of the key roles of the BMF is to raise the profile of our supply chain to government and outline the role, value and importance of builders' merchants and building material manufacturers so our members’ interests are reflected in public policy.

Addressing the long-term health of the industry

15 May 2019
During Mental Health Awareness Week BMF CEO John Newcomb talks about the importance of addressing mental health issues, as well as tackling skills shortages in the construction industry.

John NewcombOn the face of it, the building material supply sector is doing well. The country needs to build many thousands of new homes each year while a steady flow of homeowners want to renovate, improve and extend. Our BMBI report continues to track increasing sales values through UK builders merchants each quarter. Dig deeper, however, and there are issues facing our industry that we need to address now to ensure its long-term health.

Indeed health, or more specifically mental health, is one of the bigger issues facing our industry today. Stress, depression or anxiety accounts for a fifth of all work-related illness in construction. A generation ago, stress didn’t register as a major problem. That doesn’t mean that it wasn’t present, just that people were not prepared to talk about it. Now they are opening up, but more needs to be done.   

In a recent study more than half of those in the construction trade (55%) are said to have experienced mental health issues at some point, while another industry study found one in four have considered taking their own life. Shockingly suicide is the leading cause of death for men under 45, affecting people from every walk of life.

This is why we have given priority to discussions on mental health at the BMF All-Industry Conference which takes place next month. A main-stage presentation from two leading campaigners in this area, Neil Laybourn and Jonny Benjamin MBE, is followed by a Mental Health Forum where they will be joined by Brian Dow, MD of Mental Health UK and Deputy Chief Executive of Rethink Mental Illness.  The Conference will also be supporting Mental Health UK as one of two charities to benefit from the proceeds of our silent auction and other fundraising, the other being Variety, the Children’s Charity our charity of the year.

Addressing skillls shortages

Another major issue facing the building materials supply industry relates to skills shortages. Initiatives to encourage young people into the industry are, of course, important but the impending loss of European workers post Brexit coupled with the time bomb created by an ageing workforce of qualified HGV drivers, and it is clear that we must create a wider range of solutions to an increasingly urgent problem.

Companies like Timpson, DHL, Halfords and Ricoh have been working with H M Prison and Probation service for years, solving their own skills shortages and transforming the lives of ex-offenders by providing employment, further training and a second chance.

The BMF has visited HMP Olney, just one of many Category C resettlement and training prisons that provide a mix of industry, vocational and classroom training, underpinned by English and Maths, to help prisoners gain skills, experience and nationally recognised qualifications during their sentences. Their aim is to reduce the re-offending rate and create safer communities.

Having a job on release is a key area to reduce reoffending. Both Halfords and Ricoh are embedded businesses with their own workshops at HMP Olney, while the staff mess works closely with Pret a Manger, who provide training. HMP Olney also has a forklift training area, concrete production workshop and site carpentry and dry lining workshops. Over 50 men have been released into work from these areas in the last two years. 

After seeing their operation in action, we believe it presents another opportunity for builders’ merchants to broaden the pool of potential recruits. We will be looking to trial the process with two or three merchants in our West Midlands region during the next six months. Watch out for our report back on progress.

This article first appeared in the May edition of Builders Merchants News (BMN)
Addressing the long-term health of the industry
During Mental Health Awareness Week BMF CEO John Newcomb talks about the importance of addressing mental health issues, as well as tackling skills shortages in the construction industry.

Preparing for Brexit

by the BMF
30 April 2019

Preparing for BrexitWith no certainty of an agreed Brexit deal within the original timescale, the BMF has outlined several areas to consider in preparing for a no deal departure.

VAT on Imports

VAT is an EU tax and BMF concern focused on having to pay 20% extra up front on imports under a “no deal” Brexit.  BMF lobbying helped secure a concession from HM Treasury to ease the impact on importers’ cashflow and costs.  Under this, VAT-registered businesses will be able to account for import VAT on their VAT return, instead of paying import VAT before goods can be released from ports. The concession applies to imports from both EU and non-EU countries.


Leaving the EU Customs Union means that customs, excise and VAT requirements will apply in much the same way as goods traded with non-EU countries. This means tariffs on UK exports as well as customs checks and paying duties and VAT at the border in the event of no deal.

The BMF recommends reviewing current and future contracts to establish who is liable to pay any tariffs, duties and VAT that may apply post-Brexit.  We further recommend checking contracts and insurance to see who is liable if goods are delayed in transit at ports and airports. .

People and Employment

Leaving the EU means the end to the free movement of people.  The Home Secretary proposes a £30,000 salary threshold below which migrant workers will not be allowed in.  If this is implemented it is likely to cause labour shortages amongst construction workers, particularly labourers.  The Home Office has published guidance about the Right to Work and what employers must do to prevent illegal working by conducting checks before taking on new staff. .

The EU Settlement Scheme will enable citizens from the EU, Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland currently residing in the UK to continue living here after 30 June 2021. Certain foreign nationals may be able to stay here without applying, notably Irish citizens and those who have indefinite leave to enter or remain in the UK.

Employers may wish to help staff apply for Settled Status, and the scheme should be open fully for applications by end of March this year.

Product Standards

There is no clamour to scrap or weaken regulations and standards on product liability, conformity marking etc. Following a no deal departure all existing European harmonised standards will become identical UK designated standards. 

However, the current CE safety mark placed on products is for the EU only.  The government has published proposals to replace CE marking with a new UKCA mark (UK Conformity Assessed) for products sold in Great Britain and Northern Ireland post Brexit.

A no deal Brexit also means that the EU will stop recognising the competency of UK based Notified Bodies (British Standards Institute and British Board of Agrément) to assess products for the EU market.  The government intends to reclassify UK Notified bodies as UK Approved bodies, which will be eligible to assess products and issue the new UKCA mark to compliant products.

Manufacturers will only be allowed to use CE marking on goods for sale in the UK for a limited period.  Those who export goods to the EU may find it desirable to show both marks, CE for EU markets and UKCA for UK sales.  This inevitably means that they will have to change packaging, advertising, declarations of performance, user guidance etc to display the new logo, with all the extra cost involved.

There will be a consultation paper and, in most cases, manufacturers will not have to adopt the UKCA mark straight away, but there may be a rush to have goods tested by UK Approved Bodies to assess compliance in preparation for the changes. The BMF issues regular updates and briefings to members on industry, economic and legislative issues. To find out more about joining click here, or email

This article first appeared in the April 2019 edition of Builders Merchants Journal
Preparing for Brexit
With no certainty of an agreed Brexit deal within the original timescale, the BMF has outlined several areas to consider in preparing for a no deal departure.

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)
Sharing the knowledge with BMF Forums
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)
Engaging with members-Brexit, building materials careers & diversity
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

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.
Autumn Party Political Conferences Report
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.

First class service for our members

27 November 2018
by BMF CEO John Newcomb

John NewcombThe BMF’s anniversary year is nearing its end with our final event, a celebratory Members’ Dinner, taking place at the Belfry later this month.  Although we are celebrating 110 years as a Trade Body our focus is very much on the future as we continue to support our members through changing and sometimes challenging times.  

This forward-looking focus has led to another year of firsts for the BMF.   

We held our first Parliamentary Reception at the House of Commons in April and followed this with the appointment of our first government relations consultants for Scotland and Northern Ireland.  We now have skilled teams in place to promote our members’ interest at Westminster, with all three devolved assemblies and with local authorities nationally.   

The BMF’s thriving Young Merchant Group held its first Conference, which took place at the NEC during UK Construction Week.  The Conference was a great success, attracting 150 delegates drawn from current, past and potential Young Merchant Group members. Highlights included keynote speaker George Clarke, the architect, television presenter and campaigner, who not only spoke passionately on the need to attract more young people into the whole construction industry including the building materials sector, but also voiced some ingenious ideas to help overcome the country’s housing shortage.  

Membership of the BMF Young Merchant Group is open to merchants and suppliers aged between 21 and 40 holding a key management position within their organisation.  As well as offering opportunities to network and share experience, their meetings regularly feature one or more speakers to encourage and inspire members.   

BMF Young Merchant’s newly-elected Chair, Glenn Paddison of MKM Building Supplies, and Vice Chair, Jo Callow of Knauf Insulation, are keen to continue developing the group’s work and influence, for example, by encouraging members to play a leading role in promoting careers in our industry to school and college leavers through the BMF Ambassador programme.   

They also see an opportunity to strengthen the Group’s ties with European merchants to share best practice, possibly with a European Conference next year.  This ties in well with another first for the BMF and for me personally. As the UK approaches Brexit, it is even more important for the BMF to strengthen its links with our European colleagues and trade bodies and last month I was honoured to be confirmed as President of Ufemat, the European Association of National Builders Merchants Associations and Manufacturers, becoming the first BMF CEO to hold that role.  

Another notable first, and a fantastic tribute to the professionalism of the whole BMF team, saw the BMF win the top honour of Overall Best Association in the prestigious Association Excellence Awards 2018, where we also won the prize for the best Association Website.  

The Association Excellence Awards, which are judged by a panel of over 20 CEOs and senior managers, recognise and reward the achievements of UK trade bodies, professional membership organisations and associations.  Awarding the BMF the prize for Overall Best Association – under 1000 members, the judges said that the Federation demonstrated strength in policy, membership events, communications, training and had genuine sector leadership.  

We are extremely proud to see the BMF’s work on behalf of our members independently recognised in this way. Our mission is to help merchant and supplier members to build excellence into every aspect of their business.  Be assured that no matter what our post-Brexit future brings, we will continue to develop the policies and programmes that helped us achieve recognition in the Association Excellence Awards to help our members build excellence into every aspect of their own business.  

This article appeared in the November 2018 edition of Builders Merchants News (BMN)
First class service for members
The BMF’s anniversary year is nearing its end with its final event, a celebratory Members’ Dinner, taking place at the Belfry later this month. Although the BMF are celebrating 110 years as a Trade Body the focus is very much on the future.

Getting the BMF strategy right

20 November 2018
by Peter Hindle MBE, BMF Chairman

Peter Hindle MBEAs the merchant industry association, we want to ensure we get maximum engagement from our members. However, to get that we need to know exactly who they are and what they require from us. The BMF has been working very hard over the past five years to ensure that it is fully representative of the whole merchant industry. We now have a full range of members from national groups right down to single branch independents as members but there is still further to go.  

We do now talk to the industry and to government with one voice, however, that doesn’t mean that we have to be speaking with the same voice to all our members. One of the things that has become apparent is that the value our members get from their membership is very different depending where they sit in the industry.  

As an association we offer a huge amount of extremely good services to all our members but not all of them will need every service.  

So, a major part of our ongoing strategy for the next five years will be deeper segmentation of the membership. We want to know which segments our members fall into so that we can tailor the offering to them accordingly,  

That’s the first question we are working on, what exactly are the segments within our membership? We could end up with a list that includes specialists, plumbers’ merchants independents, manufacturers, manufacturers that distribute: the BMF covers a wide variety of businesses within the parameters of the building materials supply chain. Yes, of course, there will be some generic offerings, such as our youth recruitment programme, which crosses all the segments but there will be much more some specific stuff. Even within the independent sector there are completely different types of builders’ merchants.  

A smaller independent merchant’s needs for example might be based around what the BMF can do to help them with GDPR, with health and safety, with a racking inspection or help with transport and employment. Smaller merchants tend not to have the infrastructure to deal with these areas, so these are areas where the BMF can add real value for them. Larger national companies are more likely to be set up to do a lot of what we can offer for themselves, the Health and Safety or HR services, for example. What these larger members are looking for from their trade association might be more to do with the lobbying work that we do with government.  

Once we understand that deeper segmentation, it will allow us to start to tailor everything that we do around some of those segments.  

We will also be looking at increasing what we offer to suppliers who, after all make up 35% of our memberships. This might be offering sales courses or other training that at the moment is more focussed on the merchant membership. We know that we need to pay attention to our supplier members as much as our merchant members and also we need to ensure our service members are happy too.  

Manufacturers want to join the BMF because of the networking opportunities but that’s only a part of it and we will be able to offer them real value if we target their needs more specifically. We’ve been talking a lot about Brexit and VAT on imported goods etc. and those are some big subjects that will have a serious effect on the businesses of our suppliers, which will in turn affect how they do business with our merchant members.  

The segmentation will form the biggest part of our new strategy going forward and underpinning that will be our commitment to expanding excellence with people which will bring it all to life. We are very committed to giving those working in the merchant industry proper, portable, marketable accreditation. Our training offer is very successful, and our aim is to build opportunities for everyone in this supply chain to carve out careers, allowing them to move from yard sales to outside sales or into management, wherever they have the drive and capacity to end up.  

If you do training, you have to be the best at it; we don’t want to play around with it, we want to be offering market-leading opportunities to build the future of the industry.  

A big part of the training success has been the ability to be more local to our members; our regional centres of excellence have been instrumental in this. They are going from strength to strength and we now have 21 with further two or three about to open. And they are all being used regularly and have really helped to open up the BMF benefits to the membership.  

The real major drive for us is going to be around building greater engagement with the BMF, especially from the merchant membership.   

Segmentation is going to be key to the success of the BMF moving forward as, if you want to get more people more engaged, you have to make sure you’re giving them what they want from you and we will find that out by this segmentation process.  

Training and youth recruitment will continue to be a major focus for us. In fact, the youth recruitment programme will be a key part for every segment, as that’s an issue which affects all our members, large and small.  

This article appeared in the November 2018 edition of Builders Merchants Journal (BMJ)  
Getting the BMF strategy right
As the merchant industry association, we want to ensure we get maximum engagement from our members. However, to get that we need to know exactly who they are and what they require from us.

Building a better future for our members

by John Newcomb, BMF CEO
23 October 2018

John NewcombAt its annual Members’ Day Conference the BMF unveiled a bold new strategy for the next three years, designed to help members to build excellence within every aspect of their business.  

The strategy was finalised following extensive research with members to find out what matters most to them right now. The result will see the BMF extend its widely-respected training and business services to help the Federation’s diverse membership gain, and retain, business advantage at a time when the challenges facing our industry have never been greater.  

The BMF will also increase its focus on political campaigning, the third key area of support identified by the research and will concentrate its resources on the issues given the highest priority.  

While this is the start of a new era for the BMF, we are not throwing the baby out with the bathwater. We are building on what has proved successful in the past to deliver tailored business services, together with training, development and apprenticeships. Importantly each element can be drawn together to create a personalised package of value added services to meet individual members’ needs more effectively and help every business type within the building supply industry to move forward with confidence.  

This is evolution rather than revolution, but our new strategyencompasses our bold vision of the future. Our mission for the next three years is to help members to excel at providing materials and services, for building a better future. This is encapsulated in our new strapline, “Building Excellence”. 

In recent years, under our previous strapline of “One Industry, One Voice”, we have helped to unify the building materials supply chain. With 655 merchants and suppliers now in membership, representing an 80% share of the sector, we have become the network, or glue, that sticks a disparate group of national and independent merchants together.  Now it is time to move forward together, with the BMF as the backbone of the industry, promoting the sector’s vital contribution to UK economic growth and leading all members towards a larger share of the future.  

We will support merchants and supplier members, building their skills, their voice, their business and their prosperity, helping them to build excellence into every aspect of their business. At the same time, our closer relationship with the IOBM means they will complement our work as a trade body by helping our members’ employees to build sustainable careers within the building materials supply chain.  

At the heart of our programme are three core political issues prioritised by our members:

Employment opportunities – we will work to attract new talent to the industry, with a refreshed website, nationwide exhibition programme to reach potential apprentices, and industry ambassadors to spread the message in schools and colleges. 

Post Brexit Trading issues
– we will use our influence with government to ensure business is not disrupted by customs duty/dockside delays, changes to VAT practice or other procedures that hamper timber and other imports. 

Housing demand and supply – we will campaign to simplify and speed up the planning process, to enable our members’ customers to build the homes that the country needs.  

We are not only ambitious for our members. By 2020, our aim is to be regarded as the leading trade association in the building materials industry for merchants and suppliers, representing 90% of the merchant sector, with 800 merchants and suppliers in membership. We also aim to be recognised as the most professional trade organisation in the UK. By constantly building excellence into everything that we do, we can all achieve our goals.  

Find out how the BMF can work with you to build a better future click here.

This article appeared in the October 2018 edition of Builders Merchants News (BMN)
Building a better future for our members
John Newcomb, BMF CEO talks about the BMF's bold new strategy for the next three years, designed to help members to build excellence within every aspect of their business.

Customers trust you with their data, but what happens if systems fail?  

RDS Global, the BMF’s cyber protection partner, offers timely advice.    
16 October 2018

Andy Flinn of RDS GlobalOnce again data protection – or the lack of it – is making headlines in the media. In the last month alone three major corporations admitted serious data breaches affecting thousands of customers.  

The credit card details of 380,000 British Airways customers were stolen from its website and app over a two-week period during August and September. Despite promising to compensate passengers for any losses, BA potentially faces a class-action lawsuit if it is found to have failed to protect their personal data.  

Hackers also gained access to the bank accounts and personal details of up to 800 UK ferry workers at Stena Line after they broke into the Scandinavian ferry giant’s systems via fraudulent emails.

While Dixons Carphone advised its customers that some 10 million records containing personal data may have been accessed during 2017 by hackers using sophisticated malware.  This breach did not involve financial details but the personal details stolen could easily lead to fraud.  

This is just the tip of a very large iceberg. Every industry, including the builders’ merchant supply chain, is being targeted. No business can afford to ignore the issue of cyber security nor the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) that recently came into force to govern the way we hold, process, store and manage personal data.  

The implications to your business if a similar cyber break occurred could be monetary fines, penalties and regulatory audits at the very least.  If customers’ data is involved the knock-on effect from their loss of confidence in your brand leading them to take their custom elsewhere gives rise to a risk analysis that questions whether your business would be sustainable following such an event.  

As the company behind the BMF’s Cyber Audit Plus service, RDS Global can help to protect your business.  RDS is a one-stop shop to safeguard your business against various types of cyber-attacks, helping you to implement effective measures in an efficient way.  

When considering cyber security, three things are key: 

Consistency: Each cyber security measure should be consistently implemented across the board. For example, if you employ two factor authentications make sure that everyone uses this, from employees to administrators and upper management.  

Holism: Cyber security needs to be approached as a whole.There is no point in creating a highly robust and tightly secured perimeter when your data is inadequately protected from insider threats.  

Risk based approach: When formulating and implementing your security strategy it is vital to consider actual and potential risks the company faces, then conduct a thorough risk assessment to determine any current security vulnerabilities.  

RDS can assist you through the process and help you prepare and implement an action plan to minimise the risk, through the following steps.  

  • Assess your physical data security
  • Gauge employee awareness
  • Review and test outsider threat protection
  • Test your network security
  • Establish back up procedures

    The steps outlined are part of the technical requirements under General Data Protection Regulations, which in essence locks in Data Protection and Privacy for all individuals, both your employees within the business and your customer base outside.  

    For further information and advice on gaining appropriate Cyber and GDPR certifications call our IASME assessors on 0330 0538979 or drop an email to    

    This article appeared in the October 2018 edition of Professional Builders Merchant (PBM)
  • Customers trust you with their data, but what happens if systems fail?
    Your customers trust you with their data, but what happens if your systems fail? RDS Global, the BMF’s cyber protection partner, offers timely advice at a time when data protection - or lack of it - is making headlines in the media again

    Latest developments from the BMF

    An interview by Keystone with John Newcomb, BMF CEO
    8 October 2018

    John Newcomb2018 has been an important year as our new board of directors’ approach 12 months in office and have now completed a strategic review which was unveiled at our Members’ Day Conference last month. We have also recently announced the details of our bi-annual conference, to be held in Dubrovnik in June 2019.  

    Where does the BMF stand on Brexit?

    Firstly, because we represent members who voted for each outcome, leave and remain, we have adopted a completely apolitical stance on Brexit. Our role now, is to look for positive outcomes and protect our members from any negative effects that might arise post-Brexit.

    Advising members is obviously difficult until the trade arrangements are agreed but, in the meantime, we think it’s important for merchants focus on developing what they do best, which is, excellence in the supply and distribution of building materials. A really interesting development however is our new link with The European Association of National Builders Associations and Manufacturers (Ufemat). I was asked to take on the presidency for two years, a role which helps shape the strategy of the European Association.  

    There is a fear from Ufemat members of what will happen post-brexit and I think that’s why they feel having a British guy heading up the organisation is a statement of their intent that they don’t want to lose those connections and relationships with our European partners.  

    Chris Hayward who runs NMBS is currently heading up Euro-Mat which is the European buying organisation, so the irony is you’ll have two heads of the two big European organisations both Brits, during Brexit.  My first conference as Ufemat president will be in Lisbon this month, and the exciting thing as president is that I get to run the 2020 conference in the UK which is a really positive link to our European partners.  

    What led to your success and drives your enthusiasm in the industry?

    I’ve always been driven by a desire to succeed in whatever role I’ve been in, starting originally as a graduate trainee in JCB.  My roles have naturally progressed, right up from product manager and eventually to managing director, I think you’re shaped by your childhood, so I guess it’s partly my working class background that’s driven me to succeed.  

    I guess I’ve come full circle, starting with JCB, before moving into consumer marketing where I worked for Kingfisher in retail before moving on to marketing product brands like Russell Hobbs. Then 6 years ago the circle was completed, and I was back in the construction industry.  

    The manufacture and distribution of building materials is worth around £56 billion, so BMF members are responsible for around a third of the estimated £150 billion UK construction market.  

    It’s a fantastic industry to work in and I think the Government are starting to understand that a strong construction industry is important for a strong economy, but it’s still one of those industries where we can talk ourselves very easily into recession. Because it’s obviously very male-orientated we need to be mindful of diversity and inclusion, which is currently a big topic within our sector.  

    What are the BMF doing to attract young people to the industry?  

    We are passionate about bringing young people into the industry and are taking an active approach to promote it. Firstly, we have our own dedicated website, so this is a great resource for anyone considering a career.  The site includes video clips, featuring a range of job roles and gives a flavour of what it’s like to work in the industry.

    BMF also participate annually in Apprenticeship Week, so again we have lots of kids from schools and colleges that come along that can talk to people/ members about what it’s like to work within the industry.

    It is also great to see larger merchants like Travis Perkins taking stands at career fairs. I think one of the things we do very well, is a group called ‘Young Merchants,’ it’s open to both merchants and suppliers aged between 21-40. This is the age group who will be running the industry in 15 -20 years’ time. Currently about 80 strong, the group will have its first dedicated conference on 11 October, where some senior figures in the industry, including David Kilburn from MKM, Peter Hindle and Andrew Harrison from Travis, will be talking about their careers.  

    We’ve got Sheri Hughes, Diversity and Inclusion Director of Page Group, the biggest recruitment consultant in the world, and our Keynote Speaker is Architect and TV Presenter, George Clarke who is passionate about developing young people in the construction industry.  

    The Young Merchant group meet twice a year, plus an overseas trip to broaden and develop their experience in the industry, by seeing what merchanting and manufacturing is like in other countries. There’s a great social and networking element to it as well, going out for a meal, and having a few drinks in the evening as a group.  

    What role do industry events play for merchants?

    I believe in them passionately and we now run around 60 events annually, with almost every event open to both suppliers and merchants, because we believe both parts of the supply chain are equally important.  

    The events range in size, from a round table discussion of 15 people, to an all industry conference where we have 465 delegates. The most important thing is that we are providing networking opportunities for suppliers and merchants to talk about each other’s businesses, share best practices and its particularly relevant now because we have a number of material shortages in the industry, such as timber, roof tiles, insulation and it’s very easy for one to blame the other.  

    What’s next for the BMF?

    We have just released our new five-year strategic road map, setting out very clearly where we want to go. We’ve come a long way over the last six years, doubling membership to 655 from 324, since I joined the BMF. The key now, is not to rest on our laurels, there is plenty of growth within the market and opportunities to add new suppliers and merchants.    

    As the leading trade body in the sector we want to drive awareness of changes in areas such as technology and the need for diversity in the sector.  This year for example, we hosted our very first technology forum which was a big success. I think we’ve got a great future, but we are conscious of not being complacent, never being arrogant about where we are, but always looking to grow.  

    Do you believe in the role of an institute such as IOBM?

    The IOBM haven’t finally voted on the merger, but I absolutely believe in the role of this institute, if you look at professions like marketing, accountancy and plumbing and heating, there tends to be chartered institutes.

    Part of my long term plan is to look for chartered status at the institute, but I think we have to get the basics right first of all, because the institute is a brand really without a physical presence in the market and it needs to be relooked at, reconstructed and remarketed to increasingly engage younger merchants and suppliers. I think this industry warrants having its own institute and I think it’s right that it should be part of the trade association.  

    The progress at BMF has been impressive and a testament to your leadership.

    It’s all down to the support of our members at the end of the day, the organisation is built around that relationship. Too many trade associations forget that it’s the membership that keeps them in a job, but hopefully my team don’t have that view. We are also building a strong team by bringing quite a lot of young people into the organisation with new and fresh ideas, and it’s obviously important we practice what we preach!  

    This article is adapted from the supplement by Keystone which appeared in the September 2018 edition of BMN  
    Latest developments from the BMF
    John Newcomb, BMF CEO talks about the latest developments at the BMF, including the recent strategic review which was unveiled at the Members’ Day Conference at St George's Park last month.

    Building excellence - the BMF's mission for members

    by John Newcomb, BMF CEO
    12 September 2018

    John NewcombOur members are at the heart of everything we do as a Federation and we are passionate about adding value to their businesses. This is why we have been working with the Board to evolve our vision, mission and strategic roadmap for the next three years.  

    Having achieved many milestones within our original strategic plan, and seen significant changes in the economic and political landscape during that time, we are now moving onto the next stage to strengthen the building materials supply industry - Building Excellence.   

    As part of this process we consulted with members to discover their policy priorities for the coming year.  Their responses will feed into the policy and public affairs briefings we will be giving to politicians during the main party conference season this autumn.  

    Over the past 18 months we have given far greater priority to political representation, at Westminster, in the devolved parliaments and major city authorities, to highlight the contribution played by our industry to the economic growth of the country. This will continue to be an important part of our strategy, as well as campaigning on the issues identified by members as being of greatest importance to them.  

    Regional view

    I spent much of the last month visiting members in different regions, talking to merchants and suppliers from the south of England to the lowlands of Scotland.  While there are regional variations, the overall trading picture following four months of exceptionally dry and warm weather has been pretty positive - a view reflected in the BMF’s Builders MerchantBuilding Index (BMBI) data for Q2.  After taking into account the extra trading day in Q2 2018 over the same period last year, the BMBI reports that merchants saw average daily sales growth of 5.5% year on year.  

    The BMBI, which uses point of sale tracking data collated and analysed by the research company GfK, has become the gold standard for merchant sales statistics nationally.  As part of our drive for Building Excellence, we aim to be the leading provider of all industry data.  The next step will be to work with GfK to drill down further to understand differences in regional trading conditions.  This valuable insight will be shared exclusively with members at BMF’s Regional Meetings.  

    Developing talent

    Attracting and developing talented people within the industry will continue to be one of our main strategic goals.  With the latest group of school-leavers and university graduates entering the job market, we are extremely encouraged that initiatives relating to apprenticeships and higher level qualifications undertaken to date are paying dividends.  

    Our 2018 Remuneration Survey found that apprentices nationally made up 7.45% of our total merchant workforce at 30 April 2018, up from 1.12% 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.  

    The BMF has embraced the opportunities afforded by the new system.  There are roles within BMF members for GCSE achievers, A level students and graduates alike. Our challenge now is to build on the initial success and recruit within the merchanting sector greater numbers than ever, from Trade Supplier Level 2 starters to the highest achievers seeking post graduate Level 7 opportunities.  

    Find out how we plan to achieve these and other milestones at the BMF Members’ Day Conference on 27 September, where we will be outlining further elements of our strategic plan. Book your place at here

    This article appeared in the September 2018 edition of Builders Merchants News (BMN)
    Building excellence - the BMF's mission for members
    Our members are at the heart of everything we do as a Federation and we are passionate about adding value to their businesses. This is why we have been working with the Board to evolve our vision, mission and strategic roadmap for the next three year

    Metro Mayors want more devolution 

    Brett AmphlettBy Brett Amphlett, BMF Policy & Public Affairs Manager
    4 September 2018  

    At this time of the annual party political conferences, leaving aside Brexit, the single most pressing problem for government is the need to boost output, employment and educational achievement in poorer performing regions, compared to London and the South East - the so-called ‘productivity puzzle’.   

    The Mayors  

    Away from London, the BMF likes to keep track of regional policy. Central to this is devolution of powers and funds to cities, especially the eight with a directly-elected Metro Mayor:  

    • Ben Houchen - Tees Valley - Conservative
    • Dan Jarvis MP - Sheffield City Region - Labour
    • Andy Burnham - Greater Manchester - Labour
    • Steve Rotheram - Liverpool City Region - Labour
    • Andy Street - West Midlands - Conservative
    • James Palmer - Cambridgeshire and Peterborough - Conservative
    • Sadiq Khan - London - Labour
    • Tim Bowles - West of England - Conservative. 

    These regions account for nearly 42% of all economic growth, covering 21 million residents.  

    Brett Amphlett, BMF Policy and Public Affairs’ Manager, explains current thinking and highlights what might be next below:  

    The debate  

    The BMF sometimes advances its members’ interests via think tanks. This summer, we were delighted to discuss further devolution in England with some of those involved. The first occasion was thanks to Devo Connect, who organised a debate in the House of Commons to answer the question: where next for English devolution?  

    Jim McMahon, Labour MP for Oldham West, is Party Spokesperson on Devolution and Cities. James Palmer was directly elected as Mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough in May 2017. In a spirited debate, topics included:  

    • the North is a victim of a disinterested government in London that neither understands nor has strong roots in northern town and cities
    • over-reliance on Council Tax and business tax to pay for investment in public services
    • the devolution genie is out of the bottle and there can be no going back
    • policy must play to England’s strengths and reflect regional identity
    • Westminster makes devolved areas fight each other for funding and patronage
    • current policy is only decentralisation, not real devolution.  

    Most of the participants agreed that some form of fiscal devolution was the next logical step.  

    The BMF posed a conundrum for politicians. In September and October, the Party Conferences take place. In November, the Chancellor of the Exchequer reveals his Budget. In December, it is Christmas so the question was “what single thing did each speaker want for Xmas from London?”  

    Intriguingly, only James Palmer answered. He wants control of Apprenticeship Levy funds that employers do not spend, and skills policy for 16-19 year olds.  

    The agenda  

    The second occasion was when Cllr Sir Richard Leese appeared at Warwick Business School in the Shard by London Bridge Station. At an invitation-only Centre for Cities event, the BMF joined Sir Richard, Leader of Manchester City Council, to discuss the urban revival of his city over the last 25 years. Cllr Leese has met the BMF several times after their first encounter in June 2009 at the Greenbuild Expo in the G-Mex.  

    For a Labour politician, he was generous to praise two Conservatives who did a lot to help revive northern cities: Michael Heseltine in the 1980s and George Osborne in the 2010s.  

    The BMF asked Sir Richard the same question “What do you want for Manchester as a Xmas present from Whitehall?” He responded "full devolution of the post-16 skills budget and flexibility to use surplus Apprenticeship Levy if not spent by employers."   

    The scale  

    These occasions echo views given to the BMF by Andy Street, Mayor of the West Midlands, when he visited the BMF office in Coventry. Improving skills is a huge challenge, and Mr Street wants funding and flexibility to make apprenticeships succeed. As Andy develops a Local Industrial Strategy, he aims to bring government and employers together to improve skills in the West Midlands. His biggest priority for his second year as Mayor is to help people gain skills to get well-paid jobs. 

    Official figures obtained by the BMF show the West Midlands has a shortage of skilled workers. The proportion of highly-skilled people in the region is about 15% below the England average. One in every eight people in the West Midlands have no qualifications.  

    Mayor Street’s view chimes with the BMF’s. Parents must be encouraged that university is not always the right choice for their child. Without proper careers guidance, the risk is that young people are channelled into a career that may prove to be the wrong choice. Students leave university with no guarantee of a job and a £40,000 student loan to repay. They could instead join a business like those of our members, that offers meaningful jobs and rewarding careers for people of all ages.  

    Next steps 

    Devolution for housing and planning, education and skills, and transport and infrastructure, is happening. BMF members would be foolish not to make the most of what devolution offers the housing and home improvement markets the BMF serves.  

    That is why John Newcomb and Brett Amphlett are at the Party Conferences to lobby mayors and local authority leaders to explain the role, value and importance of merchants and manufacturers - and the Federation itself - to deliver for local communities.   

    For more information please contact Brett Amphlett at    

    This article appeared in the autumn 2018 edition of One Voice  
    Metro Mayors want more devolution
    Metro Mayors want more devolution by Brett Amphlett, BMF Policy & Public Affairs Manager. At this time of the annual party political conferences, leaving aside Brexit, the single most pressing problem for government is the need to boost output, empl

    The Government's Clean Air Zone plans - a breath of fresh air?  

    by Richard Ellithorne, Membership Services Director
    21 August 2018

    Richard EllithorneLast year the Government published plans to tackle roadside nitrogen dioxide concentrations, which included a requirement for Birmingham, Nottingham, Derby, Leeds and Southampton City Councils to introduce Clean Air Zones from January 2020. The Councils are required to submit a full business case by 15 September 2018 after local consultations this summer.  

    Essentially, the new zones are designed to improve air quality as quickly as possible to comply with the law. In cities where charging is applied, only vehicles that meet current emissions standards – Euro 4 for petrol. Euro 6 for diesel – will not have to pay a daily charge.  Hybrid, electric and LPG engine vehicles will also not have to pay.  

    Clean Air Zones (CAZ) are a particular problem for merchants as, unlike buses, coaches and taxis, merchants have little or no choice but to use diesel HGVs to move heavy materials.  Electric vehicles are not yet a realistic option, though this may change in the future.   

    The BMF has been focussing its campaign to minimise the impact on businesses that do not have Euro VI/6 diesel HGVs, and in some cities, vans.  Lobbying of government ministers and a number of councils tis underway to persuade them not to penalise members unfairly.  The BMF puts the case for more time to enable members to make the necessary operational changes, together with discounts or temporary exemptions for SMEs based in or near a new CAZ, plus funding or tax changes to help replace old lorries, trucks and vans with cleaner, greener models.”  

    In June, Leeds and Birmingham City Councils unveiled their formal public consultations – which the BMF along with other bodies such as the Freight Transport Association are studying closely to assemble their responses.   The presumption is that older polluting HGVs are likely to face £50-£100 daily charges, and in some instances LGV’s will pay £12.50.  

    However, there is some positive news.  It seems that Leeds has listened to the concerns that the BMF expressed.  The proposed boundary of the city’s CAZ has been adjusted and remains a category B, which means that van users will not be affected.  The charge for older HGVs entering the zone will be £50 a day, half that of London.  

    Birmingham’s planned CAZ is also smaller than anticipated, covering the areas inside the Middle Ring Road, but will apply to all private and commercial vehicles.  

    Meanwhile, Southampton is consulting on a city-wide Category B CAZ, which again exempts vans, charging non-compliant HGVs up to £100 a day to enter.  

    The BMF hopes to have more news in time for the BMF Members’ Day Annual Conference on 27 September.  

    Transport Manager CPC  

    BMF Transport Plus providers, Prompt Services, report that the Senior Traffic Commissioner has started a review of the Statutory Guidance and Directions documents which set out how the laws and regulations surrounding operator licensing are interpreted.  

    The most significant expected change is to the requirements of transport managers to maintain their professional knowledge.  Most builders merchants operate on a restricted licence and restricted operator licence holders will be required to demonstrate they have done so by undertaking two days of Certificate of Professional Competence refresher training every five years.    

    Direct Vision Standard

    Transport for London (TfL) is pressing ahead with the introduction of a Direct Vision Standard (DVS) for HGVs to improve safety for vulnerable road users, such as cyclists. The proposed DVS will use a star system to rate HGVs from 0 (lowest) to 5 (highest) based on how much the driver can see directly through their cab windows, as opposed to indirectly through cameras or mirrors.   

    The DVS is due to come into force next year and TfL has now released details of the star ratings for Euro VI HGVs.  However, HGV owners must contact their vehicle’s manufacturer for find out the rating for their particular model.  

    Further work is being carried out on ratings for Euro V and Euro iV vehicles, and we await more information from TfL on these older models.   This article was produced with assistance from Prompt Services, who provide BMF’s Transport Plus service.  

    If you would like to book a FREE transport health check, or to find out more about how BMF Transport Plus could benefit your business, please contact Prompt Training at or 01773 850428, quoting your BMF membership number.  
    Government Clean Air Zone plans - a breath of fresh air?
    BMF Membership Services Director Richard Ellithorne talks about The Government’s Clean Air Zone plans - a breath of fresh air? Last year the Government published plans to tackle roadside nitrogen dioxide concentrations...

    Clean Air Zones in English cities  

    by Brett Amphlett, BMF Policy and Public Affairs Manager
    10 July 2018

    Clean Air ZonesIn spring 2017 Brett Amphlett, BMF Policy and Public Affairs Manager, reported in One Voice magazine how the BMF was lobbying to mitigate proposals on air pollution that will adversely affect merchants and suppliers. Below is an update on further policy developments, what the issues are, and what the BMF is doing on behalf of its members.  


    The EU Ambient Air Quality Directive 2008 sets legally-binding limits for air pollutants such as particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide that affect public health. In recent years, the Government has failed to bring down air pollution to within legal limits and has lost three court cases as a result.    

    In July 2017, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) published its latest plan to tackle roadside nitrogen dioxide concentrations. This plan set out action needed nationally and locally towards emissions from transport.  

    The Greater London Authority and Birmingham, Nottingham, Derby, Leeds and Southampton City Councils must introduce Clean Air Zones from January 2020. Another 23 local authorities are forecast to exceed the legal limit in the next few years. They are required to devise plans to limit nitrogen dioxide within the shortest possible time. Councils should have lodged interim plans with DEFRA by 31 March and - after local consultation this summer - must submit final plans by 31 December 2018.  

    Clean Air Zones  

    To comply with EU rules and court judgements, DEFRA has produced air quality plans for English towns and cities, showing how ministers intend to improve air quality as quickly as possible. A network of Clean Air Zones is the main proposal and the first cities being compelled are Leeds, Derby, Nottingham, Birmingham and Southampton. Bristol, Cardiff, Oxford, Manchester, Liverpool and other cities are due to follow.  

    Restrictions on access for the most polluting petrol and diesel vehicles are planned, ie older buses, coaches, taxis, lorries and vans. Vehicles will be required to meet the Euro 6 standard or face a daily charge. Private cars and motorcycles will be exempt. The zones are expected to come into force at the start of 2020.  

    The question of whether local authorities can charge drivers to enter is disputed. Environment Secretary, Michael Gove, has decided charging is the option of last resort, not the first choice. This is a win for BMF lobbying, but it may ultimately end up in the High Court again.   

    What is the BMF doing?  

    The BMF has been working on air quality, Clean Air Zones, and the demonisation of diesel users for over two years. During that time, the BMF have:  

    • been involved in three DEFRA consultations, contributing to two from the Mayor of London and one by Leeds City Council
    • made representations to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Environment Secretary and Transport Secretary
    • attended a parliamentary debate and lobbied the MPs who spoke
    • submitted views to four House of Commons Select Committees
    • met councillors and officials from the local councils involved and
    • participated in fringe events at three political party conferences.  

    In February 2018, the BMF had a letter published in the Daily Express that urged Whitehall and municipal leaders to proceed with caution, because most BMF members have no choice but to use diesel HGVs. Other associations signed the BMF’s letter, including the Freight Transport Association, British Vehicle Rental & Leasing Association, and the National Federation of Builders.   


    Last November, four parliamentary committees conducted an unprecedented joint inquiry into air quality. The BMF submitted a 2,300-word paper to speak up for merchants who use diesel HGVs. Face-to-face lobbying was done to support the arguments the BMF made, including with local Government, Transport and Treasury ministers who had to appear before MPs.  

    In March, these committees published their report in which the BMF was specifically mentioned. MPs endorsed the BMF’s view that current timescales for Clean Air Zones leave insufficient time for small businesses to prepare. They recommended ministers should investigate the feasibility of providing small businesses with more time, or resources, to upgrade vehicles. This is the first time in the BMF’s 110 year history that the BMF has been named in this way.   


    The BMF is talking to local authorities to learn what their plans are. The BMF have been to see Leeds and Birmingham City Councils and Derby is next. The BMF want to persuade councils not to penalise its members unfairly and there are grounds to be optimistic. Options discussed include:  

    • tapered charges against the worst polluters: Euro 4 vehicles pay more than Euro 5
    • exemptions for merchants if receiving deliveries before 7am from suppliers
    • councils bidding for money from Whitehall to offer as grants to retrofit vans.  

    The key question is what happens if our members can demonstrate that (by January 2020) they have taken reasonable steps to comply, but that it was not possible to do so - perhaps for technical reasons, or no suitable vehicles were available to buy or lease?   


    Unlike buses, coaches and taxis, merchants have little or no choice but to use diesel HGVs to move heavy materials. Electric vehicles are not yet a realistic option. This may change as manufacturers make electric HGVs capable of carrying heavy loads without a loss in performance or payload.  

    The BMF cannot stop Clean Air Zones being implemented. The best to hope for is flexibility to help businesses most affected with:   more time to enable members to make the necessary operational changesdiscounts or temporary exemptions for SMEs based in or near a Zonefunding or tax changes to help replace old lorries, trucks and vans with cleaner, greener models.  

    The BMF hope to have more news in time for BMF Members’ Day Annual Conference on 27 September. 

    Clean Air Zones in English cities
    Brett Amphlett, BMF Policy and Public Affairs Manager, provides an update on Clean Air Zone policy developments, what the issues are, and what the BMF is doing on behalf of its members.

    Politics, people and prospects  

    by John Newcomb, BMF CEO
    26 June 2018

    John NewcombWith housing high on the political agenda, the BMF has increased its political advocacy over the last 18 months, promoting the interests of its members and ensuring that politicians from all parties understand how materials get from the quarry or factory gate to building sites. 

    Visits to merchants’ premises are an important part of this strategy and already this year we have welcomed Liberal Democrat Leader Vince Cable to Alsford Timber in Twickenham and Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell to Lords Builders Merchants in west London.  

    BMF Policy and Public Affairs Manager, Brett Amphlett works closely with political representatives in Westminster and the English regions, and he is supported in Wales by a specialist public affairs consultant.  We recently added a second specialist consultancy to increase our profile and campaigning work in Scotland and Northern Ireland .  

    Fostering relationships with parliamentarians and their advisers is an important aspect of our work, requiring constant attention. The Housing brief at Westminster, for example, has been held by 17 ministers in the past 20 years – a higher churn rate than the manager of the England football team!  It is something of an achievement that two of the last three Housing ministers have spoken at BMF events. Alok Sharma addressed Members’ Day last September shortly before he moved on. Sajid Javid who took over the housing brief was then promoted to Home Secretary a few months later, just weeks after speaking at the BMF’s Parliamentary Reception in April.  

    It was extremely pleasing to hear Mr Javid, in his role as Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, praise the builders merchant industry for initiatives such as the BMF Apprenticeships Plus service which is helping to attract more apprentices into the sector.  Under the scheme 50 new apprentices are already in place and we anticipate a further 200 new apprenticeship roles by the end of the year.  

    Women in merchanting  

    Increasing the number of apprentices is essential, but we also want to increase the gender diversity of young people coming into merchanting. The current ratio of men to women in our industry stands at 85:15 and while the balance is slightly better amongst the 50 apprentices employed to date (78:22) there is still a long way to go.  

    The BMF exhibited at a number of national and regional Apprenticeship events this Spring attended by large numbers of school and college leavers, their careers advisers and their parents.  We are making it clear that merchanting offers a wide range of careers and the new Trade Supplier Apprenticeship – designed by merchants for merchants - is a great stepping stone to learn the business basics which will enable them to progress quickly up their chosen career ladder, whether that is within branch management or in other areas such as finance, marketing, HR or health & safety.  

    The formalisation of this new entry level qualification and its assessment by a third party is proving very appealing, attracting candidates who might not previously have considered the industry but to encourage more young women to join, we need to raise the profile of those who are already working here.  

    Last month we held our first Women in Merchanting Forum in conjunction with Builders Merchants News. It was a great event and underlined both the opportunities for women, the contribution they make to their businesses. We have the success stories, now we need to shine a light on them.  

    Future prospects  

    Over the last few weeks I have been visiting merchants in various regions and hearing anecdotal evidence about the market.  Naturally there are some concerns about the slow start to the year – and the BMF’s Builders Merchants Building Index (BMBI) for Q1 reflects this, with absolute growth at just +0.4% – but most experienced a far better April, which has continued into May.  Hopefully this bodes well for the rest of the year.  

    Merchant sales in Q1 outperformed the construction figures from the Office of National Statistics – which fell -2.7% on the previous quarter.  Price inflation may be a factor in the BMBI sales value figures but continued growth into Q2 will give us more clarity on the direction of travel.   

    While we may not see the market grow at the same levels as 2017, we remain confident that that the upward trend will continue throughout 2018.  

    This article appeared in the June edition of Builders Merchants News
    Politics, people and prospects
    BMF CEO John Newcomb talks about politics, people and prospects: With housing high on the political agenda, the BMF has increased its political advocacy over the last 18 months, promoting the interests of its members ...

    The true meaning of European union  

    by John Newcomb, BMF Chief Executive
    30 May 2018

    John NewcombLast month I was honoured to be nominated for the position of President of Ufemat – the European Association of National Builders Merchants Associations and Manufacturers.  I will be taking over this role in October, the same month that the withdrawal treaty governing the UK’s departure from the EU is due to be finalised.  

    There is more than a little irony in the timing as Ufemat’s 60-year history is bound up with that of the EU.  Anticipating new regulations that could affect their business following the Treaty of Rome, national merchant trade bodies from the original six members of the European Economic Community came together to form Ufemat as a lobby group to promote their interests.  Today it represents 19 national trade bodies as well as some of Europe’s largest building materials manufacturers and is respected by European legislators for its representation of building materials supply throughout Europe.  

    Trading post Brexit  

    Whatever Brexit brings, it is more important than ever for the BMF to have a voice in Europe.  At least 20% of our building materials are imported from Europe, many of our members are part of European-owned businesses and the BMF’s Irish members will still be operating as part of the EU.  And, of course, the UK also exports products to Europe.  We are well and truly meshed together. A great many products will continue to cross our borders and, needless to say, our European colleagues share our concerns as to what will replace the current customs union.  

    The impact of Brexit will be high on the agenda at Ufemat’s annual conference in Lisbon in October, where John Sinfield, MD of Knauf Insulation, will present a materials producer’s view.  The BMF has taken a small group of UK merchants to the last two annual conferences.  With Brexit to the fore this year, we anticipate larger numbers from the UK attending and it is a great opportunity to speak with their opposite numbers around Europe.  

    The merchant mix  

    The way merchants operate across the 19 member countries varies greatly.  Several are comparable to the UK with a mix of national and regional groups as well as smaller independents.  Others, like Italy, are almost entirely served by small family-owned businesses.  Similarly, large buying groups play an important role in some countries, while merchants purchase directly from materials producers in others.  

    Perhaps because of this diversity, no-one has yet undertaken a study into the total size of the building materials market in Europe.  I will be prioritising this during my term as President, as defining the extent and financial power of the market will undoubtedly have a positive impact on Ufemat’s central lobbying role.

    Like the BMF, Ufemat promotes networking and learning from each other.  It is particularly keen to broaden the experience and horizons of young people in our industry.  The BMF’s Young Merchant group has taken advantage of this with overseas trips to Ufemat members in Berlin and Milan where they visited manufacturing facilities and merchants to learn more about the markets in those countries.  

    Common challenges  

    Over the last ten years the building materials market throughout Europe has experienced similar cycles bringing common challenges.  While price rises linked to currency fluctuations may affect the UK more than others, virtually all markets are experiencing shortages of certain building materials and their customers face a shortage of qualified labour. Poor quality counterfeit products reaching the market through non-merchant channels is another issue facing the whole of Europe, and we are all seeking to differentiate the merchant’s specialist service from often unreliable, online market places.  

    What also remains the same in every country is the partnership between merchants and marterials’ producers and the added value service merchants provide for their contractor customers.   

    How they deliver that service will undoubtedly change over the coming decade and Ufemat is a useful forum to share best practice, for example in digitising sales systems or creating an omnichannel customer experience.  Ufemat is also looking at blue sky ideas such as large scale consolidation and distribution centres to optimise logistics in large cities and reduce CO2 emissions. This would obviously require a new kind of partnership between merchants and others in the building chain, but it is clear that the current system is unsustainable in the medium to long term.   Becoming President is both an honour and a challenge, but I am looking forward to supporting and guiding Ufemat as we enter a further period of change and development.  

    For more information on Ufemat visit  

    This article appeared in the May edition of Builders' Merchants News (BMN)
    The true meaning of European union
    Last month John Newcomb BMF CEO was honoured to be nominated for the position of President of Ufemat – the European Association of National Builders Merchants Associations and Manufa

    BMF: Responsive, influential and effective 

    22 May 2018
    by Peter Hindle, BMF Chairman

    Peter Hindle MBEIn an ever-changing world political representation is vital and advocating members interests with policy makers and legislators is an increasingly important aspect of the BMF’s work.  Our latest Member Survey revealed that over 80% of BMF’s merchant members and 86% of supplier members place high value on this service.  
    Last year we pro-actively and effectively campaigned to focus government attention on tackling the issue of late payments, which formed part of their Spring Statement.  We are now working to ameliorate the unintended consequences of proposed charges on vehicles entering five cities introducing new Clean Air Zones.  We have taken local members to meet with councils in Birmingham and Leeds to discuss our concerns and put forward suggestions to help overcome them.  Stemming from this, Andy Street, the first Mayor of the West Midlands, visited BMF in Coventry in May and speaking at Members’ Day in September.

    We also play a prominent role in three special interest groups at Westminster, with BMF representatives sitting on All-Party Parliamentary Groups covering Apprenticeships, Timber and Women at Work.  

    Housing agenda  

    With the Government pushing for 300,000 new dwellings a year, housing is high on the political agenda, and we are taking advantage of this to promote the vital role played by our industry in the house building process.  Our core message is that homes cannot be erected or improved without the products that our members supply, and that merchants remain the most efficient route to market for those products.  

    This involves a high degree of engagement with politicians of all colours, many of whom have little understanding of how materials get from quarries, forests and factories to building sites. 

    In 2017, we directly engaged with more than 115 MPs including the then Housing Minister and current Employment Minister, Alok Sharma, who spoke at Members’ Day, Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, one of four MPs to visit BMF merchants in the last 12 months, and Liberal Democrat leader, Vince Cable, sharing a platform with him at a round table event at last year’s party conference. 

    Last month, with our 110th anniversary as trade association as a catalyst for the occasion, we held our first Parliamentary Reception in the House of Commons to garner support from an even wider cohort of MPs.   A broad cross section of members attended to support our message at this extremely successful event.   

    Strength in numbers  

    The BMF’s work with devolved administrations is gaining traction too. This will become even more important in a post-Brexit environment and we are putting more resources here to support members in those areas.  A public affairs consultant for Wales has been in place for the past 18 months and we are recruiting others to develop our work in Scotland and Northern Ireland.   

    The BMF is now the largest trade association in the building materials sector and our voice is growing in influence. With a membership covering distributors and manufacturers of building materials, our views are regularly sought on the availability of materials and skilled labour amongst other industry issues and we are playing an important role in managing expectations. Working together we have a far greater impact to effect change than individual companies working in isolation - as other sectors, notably the motor industry, have demonstrated.  

    The BMF has earned its place as the trusted “go-to” organisation for national, devolved and local government seeking the industry’s view.  Be assured our members’ views are now heard by politicians of all parties.  

    This article was featured in the May edition of Builders Merchants Journal (BMJ)
    BMF: Responsive, influential and effective
    BMF Chairman Peter Hindle talks about how, in an ever-changing world, political representation is vital and advocating members interests with policy makers and legislators is an increasingly important aspect of the BMF’s work.

    Data Protection: the clock is ticking

    By Andy Flinn, RDS Global, supplier of BMF's GDPR and Cyber Audit Plus Services
    23 April 2018  

    Andy FlinnThe General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) will become law on 25 May 2018. That’s just over a month from now. If you have been meaning to do something about this for the past 12 months and have yet to take action, the clock is most definitely ticking. No matter what the size of your business, data protection is about to become your single biggest business risk. There are legal and financial penalties for those who chose to ignore the new laws.  

    That’s the bad news. The good news is that you still have time to take action and doing so is not as scary as may seem. As the company behind the BMF’s Cyber Audit Plus service, RDS Global can help put your business on the right track, starting with an internal audit of your data records.  This not only gives you legal support to say that you have started the compliance process, but also gives you a detailed understanding of an action plan to make you compliant with the new law.  

    What is GDPR?
    The new law governs the way we hold, process, store and manage personal data.  It relates to the data files, internal business processes and controls, and the way you run your business.  

    How is Data defined?
    Data is information relating to any person resident in the UK or EU.  Data is often thought of as just computer records, but the GDPR includes all paper-based records as well. Data may be passed to you by customers and suppliers alike, and vice versa.  Companies in countries all over the world will need to comply with the new GDPR if they want to do business with us.  

    An internal audit will help to establish what personal data you hold, where it is held, where it came from, how it was collected, what evidence you have that it has been collected and processed legally, with whom it has been shared (both internally and externally), on what terms it has been bought or licensed, whether and where it has been archived or deleted and who is responsible for its safekeeping.  

    What should I do now?
    You need to establish what data you hold, where it is, who has access to it, whether you have permissions to use or process this data, and how securely you protect data. You then need to purge all non-compliant data, or seek explicit permission to continue to hold it. Note that data held for a legitimate business purpose, such as support under product warranty, is allowed.  

    The next step is to ensure that all new data created from this point forward is dealt with in accordance with GDPR.  RDS Global can assist here.  We also check legal contracts, their compliance with GDPR and the power and obligations held within such contracts, terms and conditions etc.  We can also advise on reviewing your supply chain to ensure that the people you are dealing with are also, or are about to become, compliant. Otherwise it will be like filling a bucket with water, only to find it has a hole in the bottom.  

    There is a cost for this service, but it is an essential investment. GDPR compliance will become a requirement before you do business with any other compliant business from 25 May onwards.  Non-compliance could prevent you from trading – a far higher cost.  

    RDS Global are accredited as Gold Certified Partners of IASME, who are one of the governing bodies approved by UK GOV. If you would like to discuss the next steps to GDPR compliance for your business, feel free to get in touch on 03330 2211 244. Or drop us an email at    

    This article appeared in Business Helpdesk in the April 2018 edition of BMJ
    Data protection: the clock is ticking
    Data Protection: the clock is ticking by Andy Flinn, RDS Global, supplier of BMF's GDPR and Cyber Audit Plus Services. GDPR will become law on 25 May 2018. That’s just over a month from now. If you have been meaning to do something about this for

    Interesting times for Builders Merchants as investment grows    

    by BMF CEO John Newcomb
    10 April 2018

    John NewcombThere are signs that we could be at the start of such a period right now, with the announcement that Parkers, currently number 18* in the builders’ merchant top 20 by turnover, has been acquired by Cairngorm Capital Partners who have already announced ambitious growth goals for the next five years.  With no family members coming through to take over from him, it made sense for Tom Parker to sell the business he founded and we wish the new owners and Parkers’ management team every success.   

    I suspect many are wondering if this is the beginning of a wider trend, as venture capital actively targets a thriving merchant industry with significant future growth prospects.  Several other leading independent merchants are also looking to private investment companies to help them grow their businesses.  Huws Gray, the 6th* largest group, is among the latest to put a significant shareholding up for sale to fund major expansion plans, while MKM, the largest independent builders merchant, has been working with private investment partners for some time.  

    There are likely to be more announcements like this, but it won’t be a path that every independent will choose to take.  Fortunately, there is space for merchants of all sizes, and ownership, within the market place.  As the BMF celebrates its own landmark anniversaries (110 years as a trade association and 40 as a Federation), some of our members are beating us hands down in the longevity stakes.  For example, Elliott’s has remained a family-run business for more than 175 years, or six generations.  Others, like Chandler Material Supplies who were named Independent Merchant of the Year (1-10 branches) in last year’s BMN Awards, now have the fourth generation of the family on board. At the same Awards, Lauren Penney, daughter of current MD, Julie Chandler, won Trainee of the Year.  

    'Developing Future Merchant Leaders'

    Investing in their people is key to the success of any business.  Our industry is constantly developing and more than ever we need the drive, ambition, imagination and skills of the next generation of merchants to carry it forward.  The BMF plays an important role here, not just through the formal management and leadership courses we offer, but also through the informal support network of the BMF Young Merchants Group.  

    Formed some 25 years ago, the Group was established to nurture the development of young merchants and suppliers by providing a forum for ideas and expertise to be shared, to help individuals and businesses grow.  Many of its early members now hold director or MD positions, with one, Knauf Insulation’s John Sinfield, having also chaired the Construction Products Association.  

    The Group’s core purpose remains the same today, providing opportunities to build long-lasting business relationships, join in open debates, receive presentations from a wide variety of business speakers and take a wealth of knowledge back to their companies – and, of course, there is also a social element!  Not surprisingly, the value placed on the Group by former and current members is unanimously positive.   

    On 11 October, during UK Construction Week at the NEC, we will be holding our very first Young Merchants Conference; confirmation that the Group has not only come of age but will continue to play a crucial role in supporting future generations as they move the business of merchanting forward.  

    Register now for the Young Merchants Conference or view our other events here.   

    * Source: PBM UK Merchant Sector Top 20 January 2018

    This article appeared in the April edition of BMN

    Interesting times for Builders Merchants
    Interesting times by BMF CEO John Newcomb. While purporting to be a Chinese blessing, the expression “May you live in interesting times” is in fact a curse. It is always used ironically, with the clear implication that 'uninteresting times', of pe

    Bucking the trend  

    21 March 2018
    by John Newcomb, BMF Chief Executive

    John NewcombOnce again, sales through builders’ merchants appear to be bucking the general construction trend.   By the end of February, the Office of National Statistics (ONS), the Construction Products Association (CPA), and our own Builders Merchants Building Index (BMBI) had each published performance figures for the final quarter of 2017. The headlines around the ONS and CPA stats spoke of construction output falling in the last three months of the year, with output forecast to remain flat in 2018. In contrast, the BMBI found that builders merchants sales in Q4 2017 outperformed the same period in 2016, with sales values increasing in every category. The story was much the same when comparing builders merchants sales during the whole of 2017 with 2016, with every major category reporting growth, notably a 5.1% increase for the largest product category, heavy building materials.  

    The difference is down to the performance of the sectors mainly served by builders merchants. While private housebuilding is forging ahead, assisted by Help to Buy, and private domestic RMI work is holding up well, the same cannot be said for the commercial and industrial sectors, which have seen a sharp decline post Brexit, largely due to a lack of clarity as to future requirements.  

    Fortunately for merchants, the lion’s share of their sales is driven by the housing market, both new build and RMI.  In both these sectors the ONS and CPA figures concur with the BMBI which found total merchant sales in Q4 2017 were up by 6.3% on Q4 2016. This is in line with the ONS report of continued growth in new private housing, up by 8.7% in Q4 2017 over the same period in 2016, with private housing RMI also up by 2.6%. The CPA was quoted saying that private housing output is now 28.8% higher than its pre-recession peak. By contrast, commercial output is 26.4% below its historic high, whilst industrial output is 28.5% lower.  

    Will these trends continue in 2018? On the plus side, the Bank of England, predicted to raise interest rates twice more this year, appears to have the confidence to now move towards normalising monetary policy. However, we have yet to see the full impact of Carillion’s demise, particularly on their many thousands of sub-contractors.  If a significant number go to the wall, the effect is likely to be felt by every sector of the building and construction industry.    

    Data protection  

    Meanwhile, something that we are sure will happen this year is the implementation of the General Data Protection Regulations in May. These introduce greater protection of personal information but place a greater responsibility on businesses to secure that data.  

    Many merchants will already have plans in place to be certified compliant by the deadline. For those who would like further support, the BMF has a new Cyber Security service which will help members to reinforce information security and comply with the new regulations, while Halborns, who provide BMF Intelligent Employment Plus, are offering a GDPR HR Toolkit. We are also running a half day training course on 22 March to explain the issues and help delegates to move towards the solutions. To find out more, or to book your place on this timely training course email or click here to book online.  

    This article appeared in the March 2018 edition of BMN
    Bucking the trend
    Bucking the trend. John Newcomb, BMF Chief Executive says that once again, sales through builders’ merchants appear to be bucking the general construction trend....

    Counting the cost  

    by John Newcomb, BMF CEO
    27 February 2018

    John NewcombWhat a start to the year!  I’m writing this in the week that Carillion went into liquidation.  By the time you read this, the impact on the building materials supply chain – as well as on thousands of Carillion employees and hundreds of sub-contractors – will no doubt be clearer.  

    Within days of the collapse we were asked to gather information from members to help inform the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) on the level of exposure to Carillion and potential issues that may arise across the supply chain.  

    Our initial survey indicated that few merchants are directly affected, but some are likely to be indirectly exposed through customers who are, or were, Carillion sub-contractors.  It is well-known that Carillion operated on 120 day payment terms and most of their sub-contractors are owed money for work carried out prior to the liquidation.  It may, therefore, take time to discover the full effect on our sector, and the greatest impact may well be felt in the longer term and not in the first days, or weeks, following Carillion’s collapse.  

    Leading on from this, we are calling on the Government to take immediate steps to promote and enforce the Construction Supply Chain Payment Charter (CSCPC), which is designed to ensure that payments are made to the supply chain within 30 days.   

    We have also made it clear that there are great opportunities available for Carillion apprentices, and other staff, to move into the building materials industry. Through our own Apprenticeships Training Agency and our dedicated recruitment portal we can offer recruitment options to former Carillion employees who would like to find out more about furthering their career in the materials supply sector.  

    Political profile  

    In recent years, the BMF has placed a priority on raising our profile in parliamentary circles, developing policy papers to influence the parties, their strategists & spokesmen, and building relationships with parliamentarians and their advisors.  Our overriding aim is to develop their understanding of the role, value and importance of the building materials’ supply chain within the wider construction industry.  

    It is highly appropriate that the first event we are holding to celebrate our landmark anniversary year is a Parliamentary Reception at the House of Commons. This takes place on 24 April and will bring together an invited audience of BMF members, MPs and Peers.  The event celebrates the BMF’s 110th anniversary as a trade association and its 40th anniversary as a Federation by looking to the future and highlighting the talents and opportunity of the next generation of merchants, and the vibrancy and resilience of the industry.  Speakers at the event will include a representative of the BMF Young Merchants’ Group and the Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills.  

    The importance the BMF places on building relationships throughout parliament is also evidenced by our regular programme of MP visits to merchants around the country. The most recent was a visit by Rupa Huq MP for Ealing Central & Acton, to Lords Builders Merchants in Park Royal, Ealing, in the lead up to local elections in all London Boroughs in May. With affordable housing a key concern for many Londoners, Dr Huq heard how the building materials supply chain is responding to today’s housing challenges.  

    A year of anniversaries  

    Finally, the BMF is not alone in marking significant milestones.  Several of our members also have important anniversaries to celebrate.  Our congratulations to them all, but prizes for longevity must surely go to Elliotts for their 175th anniversary last year, and Bradfords, who served their first customer in 1770 and are rapidly approaching 250 years supporting local trades.  That surely takes some beating! 

    This article appeared in the February edition of Builders' Merchants News (BMN)

    Counting the cost
    BMF CEO John Newcomb talks about Carillion, the importance of raising political profile and forthcoming BMF members' anniversaries.

    A momentous year 

    by John Newcomb, CEO of the BMF
    23 January 2018

    John Newcomb, BMF CEO
    2018 represents a monumental milestone in the BMF’s history as we celebrate three landmark anniversaries: 110 years as a Trade Body; 40 years as the Builders’ Merchants Federation; and 5 years since we relocated the business from London to our current premises in Coventry.  

    To celebrate these landmarks we will be arranging three very special events during our anniversary year.  In the Spring, we will be holding our first Parliamentary Reception at the House of Commons.  In the Autumn, we will be organising our first Young Merchants’ Conference.  Finally, in late November we will be holding a special Anniversary Members’ Dinner in the Midlands.  Details of all three major events will be announced in the coming weeks, and we do hope you will join us at one of them.  

    While our anniversaries provide an opportunity to reflect on our heritage, the BMF’s focus is firmly on the future.  We begin the year working on two major initiatives – establishing the BMF in Ireland, and launching the first trade apprenticeship designed for the merchant industry by people currently working within it.  
    Announced at the end of last year, our partnership with Allied Merchants Buying Association, the fastest growing merchant buying group in Ireland, gives the BMF an excellent foundation on which to build. Expanding into the Irish merchant community will undoubtedly strengthen the BMF. Our new Irish members are keen to create a dialogue with like-minded merchants and potential suppliers, opening another market for our supplier members.  

    In another first, the BMF, working alongside the Electrical Distributors Association, jointly championed the Trade Supplier Level 2 Apprenticeship Standard.  To be launched later this month and offered to builders’ merchants through BMF Apprenticeships Plus, it set to become the sector’s primary Level 2 qualification.  It is also the first Apprenticeship designed to meet our industry’s specific needs, and I would like to thank all those who gave their time and energy to ensure it delivers the skills and knowledge needed by our new recruits.    

    As a trade body for 110 years, the BMF has seen great changes both in the industry and in our own organisation.  One thing that has remained the same is our support for the industry and, our members, who are at the heart of everything we do as an organisation. 

    I wish you all health, happiness and every success in 2018.      

    This article appeared in the January 2018 edition of BMN
    A momentous year
    A momentous year. 2018 represents a monumental milestone in the BMF’s history as we celebrate three landmark anniversaries: 110 years as a Trade Body; 40 years as the Builders’ Merchants Federation; and 5 years since we relocated the business from

    Be prepared for transport changes

    BMF Transport Plus4 January 2018

    That’s the message of the latest transport update from Bob Sands, transport and compliance manager for Prompt Services, who provide BMF’s Transport Plus service.

    Transport managers and O-Licence holders should be aware that DVSA traffic examiners are going to be given new powers to issue on-the-spot fines for any drivers’ hours offences committed in the previous 28 days.   

    While the date for the introduction of this new directive is still to be announced, since 1 November 2017, traffic examiners have been able to issue fines for up to 5 drivers’ hours offences in a single check. It means they could be fined up to £1,500 in a single check.  

    The impact of the new rules will be more pronounced when the power to punish historic offences comes into force. If stopped, drivers may be issued with a fixed penalty fine for offences in the previous 28 days, up to a maximum of five offences.  

    The new rules are designed to improve safety and will primarily impact those who don’t take sufficient rest breaks, and endanger others.  According to RoSPA, driving while tired may be responsible for 1 in 5 of all accidents, and about 40% of sleep-related accidents involve commercial vehicles.     

    Driver CPC – training countdown

    The Driver Certificate of Professional Competence (CPC) qualification lasts for five years and requires drivers to undertake 35 hours of periodic training during that time if it is to be renewed. Many drivers, particularly those who entered the scheme with ‘acquired rights’, now have less than two years to do this as the full training block must be completed by 9 September 2019.   

    If they have not already done so, transport managers should put plans in place to ensure their drivers have sufficient time to complete their CPC training without a last minute rush.     

    Prepare for Clean Air

    Anyone driving in London should be aware of the T-Charge Zone, which came into force on 23 October 2017.  Vehicles that do not meet the Euro 4/IV emission standard, or above, must pay the £10 daily charge if they enter the Zone between 07:00 and 18:00 Monday to Friday.  The T-Charge is additional to the existing Congestion Charge.  

    Transport for London (TfL) has also brought forward plans for a new Ultra Low Emission Zone. This will now come into force on 8 April 2019 and will operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week within the same area as the current Congestion Charging Zone.  The emission standard for this zone will be tougher for diesel cars and vans and for HGVs, which will have to meet Euro 6/VI as a minimum.  Non-compliant cars and vans will pay a £12.50 charge – on top of the T-Charge and Congestion Charge – while lorries exceeding 3,500kg GVW will have to pay £100 a day.  

    Changes are also planned in other cities as the Government has not brought air pollution to within legal limits and has lost court cases over diesel emissions. Clean Air  Zones (CAZ) are proposed with Leeds, Derby, Nottingham, Birmingham and Southampton the first in line.  Ministers have decided to make charging the option of last resort, and the local councils have until April 2018 to devise their plan.  The CAZs are due to come into force by the end of 2019, but how they will be implemented, which vehicles are affected and Zone boundaries remain unclear.  

    While the BMF supports moves on clean air it is concerned that controlling access to cities, or setting entry charges will hamper the deliveries to customers. The BMF has called on ministers to support merchants by providing incentives to modernise vehicles.  In particular, it wants to see a diesel scrappage scheme to help SMEs replace older lorries, trucks and vans.  

    Direct Vison Standard

    Finally, as part of a consultation process, TfL has released interim direct vision star ratings as part of the development of its proposed Direct Vision Standard (DVS). This will categorise HGVs depending on the level of a driver's direct vision from a cab, giving them a zero to five- star rating.

    If approved the proposals will require all HGVs over 12 tonnes to hold a safety permit to enter or operate in London from 2020. Those rated 'one star' and above would automatically be granted a permit, while those rated 'zero star' (lowest) would have to include specific recognised safety systems, such as sensors, visual warnings and comprehensive driver training, before a permit is granted.  Be warned, however, only those vehicles rated 'three-star' and above, or which have comprehensive safety systems, are likely to be able to operate in London from 2024.

    If you would like to book a FREE transport health check, or to find out more about how BMF Transport Plus could benefit your business, please contact Prompt Training at or 01773 850428, quoting your BMF membership number.  

    This article first appeared in the December 2017 issue of BMJ

    Click here to find out more about joining the BMF  or email Oz Bham, Membership Manager at

    Be prepared for transport changes
    Be prepared for transport changes That’s the message of the latest transport update from Bob Sands, transport and compliance manager for Prompt Services, who provide BMF’s Transport Plus service.

    The Bribery Act 2010

    The Bribery Act 2010In the April 2011 edition of “Business News”, the BMF told members:  

    Bribery Act 2010

    The Bribery Act comes into force on 1 July 2011. A Briefing '10 Things Every Employer Should Know About the Bribery Act 2010' was prepared by the BMF's Employment Adviser and is available from

    Click here for the official HM Government webpage that gives statutory guidance to employers.
    The Bribery Act 2010
    The Bribery Act 2010 | Guidance to help commercial organisations prevent bribery
    Guidance to help commercial organisations prevent bribery.

    The Brexit clock is ticking

    by John Newcomb, BMF CEO
    16 October 2017

    John NewcombMore than a year since the country voted to leave the EU, the reality of how our business lives will be affected remains unclear.   At BMF Members’ Day in September, against the background of a ticking countdown clock, our focus was firmly on Building Beyond Brexit as our speakers, including Alok Sharma, the Housing & Planning Minister, gave us their insights into possible outcomes, the challenges that may arise and the opportunities they may bring.  

    There is still clearly a lot of uncertainty but one thing is sure, and that’s the BMF’s intention to play a lead role in any changes to legislation, building regulations or customs and tariffs that may affect our Members.  Over the last 15 months our Policy and Public affairs work has risen up the Agenda.  We are regularly engaging with Government departments and ministers -  this is the first time, for example, that we have had a housing minister speak at Member’s Day.  

    Since the General Election in June, and in preparation for the Autumn political party conference season, we have updated our Policy outlook document, which outlines our key asks from Government. For the second year running the BMF, this year in partnership with the NFRC, was a major sponsor of the Skills Summit held at the Lib Dem Conference in Bournemouth.  We also attended the Labour Party Conference in Brighton the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester.  

    We are fortunate that the BMF membership is at its highest for over 20 years.  The fact that we are the fourth largest construction trade body representing over 80% of the merchant sector means that our voice is not only being heard, our views are now actively sought.  

    Core Values  

    Whatever the challenges of Brexit, the BMF is committed to building a business that will continue to be relevant to members and in great shape to serve and support our industry.  

    With four new non-executive directors appointed this year, we are in the process of building a new Board to lead the Federation through the changes facing our industry.  Their first task is to formally review our strategy and produce a new strategic roadmap for the next five years.  The roadmap will be delivered next summer but we have already started on the journey by signing off the three Core Values that will underpin the BMF’s vision for the future.   Our Core Values confirm that we are: 

    Passionate about adding value to our Members’ businesses
    Member focused and Member engaged
    Personal, approachable and trustworthy  

    Working together  

    We understand the value of working together and the strength that this gives us.  Over the past year we have created 15 Regional Centres of Excellence throughout the UK.  This has been made possible by merchant and supplier members making their premises available for our use for regional meetings, training, and local press and public affairs events.  We are also indebted to our 11 Regional Chairs, busy merchants who give up their very valuable time to head each the BMF’s Regions, as well as the Sector Chairs who run each of our product category and job specific forums.  Without their support, these meetings simply couldn’t happen.  

    The trend towards localisation will gain prominence in our future Policy and Public affairs strategy, as the UK moves towards more devolved powers, with the appointment of Policy and Public affairs consultants in Scotland and Northern Ireland during the next 12 months.  This follows the successful appointment of our Welsh public affairs consultant last summer.  

    Over the next five years we are aiming for further growth and greater influence.  By 2020, we aim to have a 90% share of the Merchant sector with 500 Merchants and 250 Suppliers in membership, making us at the very least the third largest Trade Association in the construction industry.  But even more importantly, we want to be regarded by our members, our peers, and by those we seek to influence as one of the best and most professionally run Trade organisations in the UK.

    This article appeared in the October 2017 edition of Builders' Merchants News

    The Brexit clock is ticking
    The Brexit clock is ticking by John Newcomb, BMF CEO. More than a year since the country voted to leave the EU, the reality of how our business lives will be affected remains unclear. At BMF Members’ Day in September, against the background of a

    Market resilience

    John Newcombby John Newcomb, BMF Chief Executive
    20 September 2017

    Over the summer we have seen conflicting speculation in both the national and trade press on the general state of the economy and how the construction industry is faring.

    For example, the BMF’s Builders Merchants Building Index (BMBI) recorded growth throughout the first half of the year, which on first viewing seems at odds with data issued by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) for Q2.

    Whereas the initial ONS Q2 results reported that construction output rose by just 0.4% on the same period last year and fell by 1.3% compared with Q1 2017, the BMBI found that builders merchants saw Q2 sales increase by 5.3% (when adjusted for there being two less trading days in the period) compared to 2016, with year-to-date sales figures 3.8% higher than the same period last year.

    Initial ONS data is often revised – which may have happened by the time you read this.  On the other hand, it may not be too much at odds with the BMBI and other indicators. Most of the other major trade association Q2 reports – including CPA, FMB and NFB – found that order books are being sustained by private housing and RMI work – the mainstay of many a merchant’s business – while commercial sectors are falling behind. Even the relatively gloomy ONS statistics reported a record 5.1% increase in private housing in June over May.

    Having spent much of August on the road visiting 20 or so BMF members in the SW and NE of England and in Scotland, I think the merchant sector can best be described as resilient.  I found striking similarities across all the merchants I spoke to.  Every one of them reported sales growth through the first half of the year – even those in parts of the country affected by adverse weather conditions in the early summer months. 

    However, whilst these regional merchants have seen little evidence of a slow down in overall sales they are reporting more price increases, an inevitable result of the falling exchange rate, and shortages in certain product areas. 

    Future forecasts

    Attempting to forecast the future is notoriously unreliable, but it would be foolish not to consider the possibility of tougher trading conditions as we move into 2018. Indeed, BMF Members’ Day this month is dedicated to exploring possible scenarios for the building industry in a post Brexit economy. We have lined up a wide range of speakers to give their views including a member of the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee, the CBI’s Brexit expert and the FMB’s Vice President. 

    We are also delighted to welcome the Minister of State for Housing and Planning, Alok Sharma.  Mr Sharma is responsible for the government’s housing and home ownership policy as well as the planning policy which underpins it.  Other important parts of his portfolio include estates regeneration and regulation of the private rented sector.  With so much merchant business driven by housing, this session is not to be missed.


    Next generation

    The turn of the academic year is traditionally the time to take on apprentices. In May, the BMF formed an accredited Apprenticeship Training Agency (ATA).  As an ATA, the BMF acts as the formal employer of the apprentices, who are placed with member companies. By acting as the employer, the BMF ATA removes potential administrative hurdles making it easy for BMF members to take on an apprentice in any job role.

    This is a hugely exciting initiative. We are currently in dialogue with over 40 member companies who are looking to develop their next generation of employees. This first tranche of enquiries alone could lead to 200 new apprentices joining the industry. 

    Twenty one apprenticeships have already been confirmed, including the BMF’s own Level 2 Customer Service Practitioner.  We wish every one of them well in their future careers.

    This article appeared in the September 2017 edition of Builders' Merchants News
    Market resilience
    Market resilience. Read John Newcomb, BMF Chief Executive's latest blog which appeared in BMN September. Over the summer we have seen conflicting speculation in both the national and trade press on the general state of the economy and how the co

    The European clock is ticking  

    by Brett Amphlett, BMF Policy and Public Affairs’ Manager
    8 September 2017

    Brett AmphlettAs MPs returned to Westminster this week, it's a good time to outline the situation about leaving the European Union. Brett Amphlett, BMF Policy and Public Affairs’ Manager, highlights the positions being taken below and explains what the BMF has been doing since the Prime Minister triggered the EU Article 50 clause. 

    The main players

    The formal negotiations began on 19 June. The UK team is led by David Davis MP, Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, who was Minister for Europe in John Major’s Government. Mr Davis also chaired the Public Accounts Committee when Tony Blair was the Prime Minister.  

    The EU Chief Negotiator, Michel Barnier, was the European Commissioner responsible for financial services and the internal market before taking up his current role. In France, Mr Barnier was elected to the National Assembly and served as a government minister including as French Foreign Minister. The European Parliament has a say in ratifying whatever proposals are hammered out. Its Chief Negotiator is Guy Verhofstadt MEP who is a former Belgian Prime Minister.  


    The Conservative Government set out its proposals and the direction it wants to take in the Brexit White Paper published on 2 February. Following the General Election, the minority Conservative Government gave more details about legislative changes it wants to make; negotiating ‘red lines’; and future legal, tax and funding arrangements. Most of the proposals are well-known: (a) taking back control of our laws; (b) controlling immigration; (c) maintaining employment rights and consumer and environmental protection; and (d) trade agreements with Europe and other markets.  

    The European Commission in Brussels has set out the collective views of the other 27 EU Member States. In essence, the negotiating positions can be boiled down, as follows:  

    • leaving the Single Market and the Customs Union entirely
    • taking Britain out of the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg·
    • no longer paying billions of pounds in EU financial contributions
    • bringing down net migration to tens of thousands
    • protecting the rights of British people who currently live and work in Europe (and vice-versa)
    • “no deal is better than a bad deal”.  

    • Britain cannot stay in either Single Market or Customs Union without sticking to ‘four freedoms’ laid down in EU treaties - namely freedom of movement of goods, people, services and capital
    • UK must pay a financial ‘divorce’ settlement - a figure of €75 billion is often mentioned
    • negotiations must be done in sequence, not in parallel - talks on Britain’s departure and a financial settlement to be concluded first before the EU will talk about a future trade deal
    • deciding on method of resolving EU-UK disputes post-Brexit - i.e. European Court of Justice
    • prioritising the unique position between Northern Ireland and the Republic to avoid a ‘hard border’ and the reintroduction of border controls and customs’ checkpoints
    • protecting the rights of Europeans who currently live and work in UK (and vice-versa).  


    In July, ministers published the EU Withdrawal Bill - often called “Great Repeal Bill” - as draft legislation for Parliament to scrutinise now that MPs are back. The aim is to pass a new Act of Parliament to incorporate existing EU Regulations and Directives into UK law so they apply after Brexit. Ministers also propose to give themselves the power to change secondary legislation.  

    In the Queen’s Speech (21 June), 8 new pieces of draft legislation were announced. The most relevant to BMF members are a Trade Bill, a Customs Bill and an Immigration Bill:  

    • Trade Bill aims to boost the UK as a global trading nation; protect UK firms from unfair trading practices; and allow an independent trade policy to operate the day after Brexit
    • Customs Bill aims to introduce a customs’ regime to replace the EU Customs Union we currently belong to; allow for future deals with the EU and other world markets; and impose new British indirect taxes (current VAT will no longer apply because it is an EU tax)
    • Immigration Bill aims to abolish EU law on free movement and bring migration policy for EU people back under UK law to control the number of people coming here from Europe.

    This article appeared in the Autumn 2017 edition of the BMF's One Voice magazine
    The European clock is ticking
    As MPs returned to Westminster this week, it's a good time to outline the situation about leaving the European Union. Brett Amphlett, BMF Policy and Public Affairs’ Manager, highlights the positions being taken below and explains what the BMF has bee

    The challenge continues    

    John Newcombby John Newcomb, BMF Chief Executive
    18 August 2017

    Coming just days after the General Election, the theme of our recent Conference, Change Challenge and Opportunity, could hardly have been more appropriate. The feedback from delegates confirmed that the speakers’ thought-provoking presentations continued to resonate as the attendees returned to business back home.  

    In times of rapid change, It is more important than ever for the industry to have opportunities like this to come together  to consider not only the issues affecting them today but also those about to come over the horizon.  It will be interesting to see what the talking points are next summer when the industry meets on the stunning shores of Lake Maggiore for the NMBS All Industry Conference 2018.  

    Staying on track  

    Over the last five years the BMF has developed and implemented a strategy that has seen positive benefits for every sector of the building materials supply industry.  The result has been a surge in membership amongst general and specialist merchants and their suppliers of every size and in every part of the country.  In July, we welcomed our 600th member, swelling our numbers to their highest since 1995.  

    This is a significant milestone. As the fourth largest construction trade organisation in the UK our views are increasingly sought by policy makers at every level of government. Our voice is also receiving greater exposure in both mainstream and digital media, helping to build wider understanding of the merchant industry  

    As our membership grows we need to ensure that the BMF continues to meet their needs.  The BMF Board is tasked with challenging the status quo and making sure that our strategy is fit for purpose.  BMF board members serve a maximum term of six years and three new directors attended their first board meeting in July, which, coincidentally, met for the first time in Northern Ireland.  As we move forward holding board meetings in our new BMF Regional Centres of Excellence around the UK will help us to keep in touch with the wider BMF membership.  

    Our three new directors, Andrew Harrison of Travis Perkins plc, Shanker Patel of Lords Group and Ian Haldane of the Haldane Shiells Group, bring a wide range of experience to the board and their varied backgrounds are in keeping with the BMF’s broad membership. Ian and Shanker have both overseen major growth within family-owned businesses operating in distinct areas.  Andrew has served in senior roles in both a large regional operation and in the UK’s largest merchant business. In his latest role, as Deputy CEO of TP's Plumbing and Heating Division, he will also add to the BMF’s understanding of a fast-growing cohort within our membership.  

    Celebrating success  

    This year, for the first time, we partnered with the FMB’s Master Builder of the Year Awards, to identify some of the best merchants in the country.  The Master Builder of the Year Awards celebrate the work of small and medium sized builders who have demonstrated excellence both in their standard of work and their customer service.  Similarly, the BMF Builders Merchant Award turns the spotlight on local merchants who have focused on customer service to drive new business growth.   We were delighted with the response and the quality of the entries and along with the FMB, we had a hard task selecting the six regional winners, listed below:  

    Midlands                            E H Smith
    North                                  Milford Building Supplies
    Northern Ireland              Haldane Fisher
    South                                  Parker Building Supplies
    Scotland                             Beatsons Building Supplies
    Wales                                  LBS Builders Merchants  

    We wish them all luck as they go forward to the national final.  The overall winner will be announced at an Award Ceremony on 15 September and the BMF will be there, along with the six finalists, to celebrate their success.  

    This article appeared in the July/August 2017 edition of Builders' Merchants News
    John Newcomb
    The challenge continues
    The challenge continues. Read John Newcomb's latest column which appeared in BMN July/August 2017. Coming just days after the General Election, the theme of our recent Conference, Change Challenge and Opportunity, could hardly have been more appropr

    The National Minimum Wage Act 1998 and National Living Wage 2016  

    In the April 2016 edition of “Business News”, the BMF told its members:      

    National Living Wage comes into force   The new mandatory National Living Wage has come into force, requiring employers to pay workers aged 25 and over at least £7.20 an hour. It is expected to give 1.3 million workers an immediate pay rise.          

    In the Summer 2016 edition of “One Voice” the BMF published a 1½ page article on the NMW and NLW:  

    Rewarding your staff: The National Living Wage  

    The arrival of the new National Living Wage has been widely trailed in newspaper, television and radio adverts. But in the weeks since it became law, hidden consequences have begun to emerge.  

    Several high-street businesses have been pilloried by press and politicians when changes they made to staff terms and conditions became public. It began when a whistleblower at B&Q leaked a letter to “The Times”. In it, management is alleged to have threatened to dismiss staff unless they sign a new, less-generous contract. Brett Amphlett, BMF Policy & Public Affairs Manager, discusses the main issues for merchants:  

    In his July 2015 Budget, the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced he would legislate to impose a new National Living Wage, over and above the National Minimum Wage. As the name suggests, it is all about living standards and aims to boost the pay of entry-level workers. It is part of complex, but concerted, moves by the Conservatives to reconfigure the system of welfare and benefits payments and business taxation and tax credits.  

    Rates and eligibility  

    The key determinant is the age of your staff: If they are under 25, you must pay the National Minimum Wage.  If they are aged 25 and over, you must pay the National Living Wage.  

    National Minimum Wage (NMW)  

    There are four hourly rates in law and they are increased annually on 1 October for all staff. Today, BMF members ought to be paying:  

    • 16 to 17-year old rate = £3.87
    • Youth Development Rate for those aged 18-20 = £5.30
    • Adult Rate for those aged 21-24 = £6.70
    • Apprentice Rate = £3.30  

    The Apprentice Rate applies to:  

    • all apprentices in their first year and
    • 16 to 18-year olds in any year of the apprenticeship.  

    Otherwise, apprentices are entitled to the rate that relates to their age. If you provide staff accommodation, it can be taken into account at a daily rate of £5.35. These hourly rates will rise again on 1 October in line with above-inflation increases announced in the March 2016 Budget.  

    National Living Wage (NLW)  

    The Government has introduced a new hourly rate for all full and part-time staff aged 25 and over. The National Living Wage with effect from 1 April 2016, at a starting rate of £7.20. It is, in effect, a 50p premium on the NMW Adult Rate and is now the top rate of the five statutory rates. Over time, ministers will ratchet the NLW up every April so that it reaches over £9 by 2020 - in other words, a legally-enforceable 6% year-on-year pay increase.  

    Annual uprating is due to be aligned in April 2017 because at present, NMW increases occur in October, whereas NLW occur in April. This is sensible, but it means that until next April, there are different dates for increases, depending on staff age.  


    The Conservatives are determined to see through these changes that were in the General Election Manifesto. The HMRC will enforce rates more vigorously than before, with harsher penalties. Employers found guilty:  

    • will have to pay arrears owed, plus a penalty, up to a maximum penalty of £20,000 per worker
    • are likely to be disqualified from being a company director for 15 years
    • will automatically be ‘named and shamed’ by the Government.  

    HMRC’s enforcement budget is being doubled and a new team established to bring criminal prosecutions against firms that do not pay the correct rate. Given other policies like protecting the term ‘apprenticeship’ from misuse by dodgy training providers and the Apprenticeships Levy, the HMRC is bound to focus on enforcing rates and rules for apprentices. NB: after apprentices aged 24+ finish their first year, they become entitled to the National Living Wage (£7.20), not the Apprentice Rate (£3.30).  

    The Minimum Wage was flagship Labour Party policy at the 1997 General Election and became law in April 1999. The Conservatives have now gone further and ministers have begun a complex set of policy, tax and regulatory changes (all at the same time) to boost productivity. Mr Osborne wants to correct an anomaly where taxpayers subsidise employers who pay low wages.  

    To offset the impact, the Chancellor is exempting small firms from National Insurance Contributions and cutting Corporation Tax to 17% by April 2020. Mr Osborne argues that higher wages lead to greater spending that would ultimately lead to the creation of more jobs in the wider economy. But others are not so sure. The Office for Budget Responsibility warns of the hidden cost of ‘wage spill-over’. This is where employers have to boost other staff wages to maintain pay bands - especially if they have no choice, for example, if set out in employment contracts.  

    A furore caused by businesses that withdrew benefits like Sunday and Bank Holiday pay, overtime, and time off in lieu for unsociable hours has erupted at Westminster. A 130,000-strong petition calling for B&Q to ditch its changes led to a House of Commons’ debate. MPs revealed tactics used by firms to lessen the impact by clawing back allowances or premiums.  

    The Government is taking a firm line and is putting pressure on companies. On ITV, the Chancellor warned that by cutting perks, firms are not acting in the spirit of the law and they should abide by their responsibilities. Replying to the debate, Business Minister Nick Boles urged MPs to tell him of firms not upholding the spirit of the law, so ministers can embarrass employers and apply pressure so they live up to their legal obligations.  

    To conclude, the BMF has no problem with the National Living Wage. The last BMF Remuneration Survey showed that average wages for merchants’ staff are £16,000- 20,000 pa. For managers, salaries go up to £30,000 or beyond. BMF members tend to offer better terms and conditions than DIY retailers. When the B&Q leak broke, the BMF wrote to “The Times” to give a more balanced view of our supply chain. We emphasised that BMF merchants have a much bigger share of the market than B&Q – approximately 4,500 outlets compared to their 750 stores.  

    No-one fully knows what the impact will be in relation to pay, productivity and employment. The Government admits it is likely to mean job losses. The National Living Wage will raise the pay of entry-level workers to (as yet) untested levels. One aspect is certain: if you already pay over the legal minimum, the NLW will catch up with you. Higher pay you offer today will be eroded over time and no longer act as a premium to retain or recruit staff. For more information, please go to or                     

    The official HM Government webpage that gives statutory guidance to employers is at:  
    The National Living Wage
    The National Minimum Wage Act 1998 and National Living Wage 2016
    Builders Merchants Federation policy update - The National Minimum Wage Act 1998 and National Living Wage 2016.

    Does the Modern Slavery Act 2015 affect your building materials business?

    Modern Slavery Act 2015In the February 2016 edition of “Business News”, the BMF told members:

    Modern Slavery Act 2015 – does it affect your business?

    BMF’s employment lawyers Halborns outline the new requirements of the Modern Slavery Act 2015

    What do I need to know about the Modern Slavery Act 2015? (MSA)
    If you turnover £36M or more you must publish an annual statement of the steps your business is taking to ensure human trafficking and slavery is not present in your business or supply chains. As you’d expect, detailed definitions of the offences of slavery and human trafficking are set out in the MSA but essentially amount to forcing people to work or travel against their will.

    How do I comply with the requirements?
    There is no law on the exact wording that the statement should take. It should include:
    1. Details about your supply chains;
    2. What steps you have taken to check whether slavery and human trafficking has tainted your business or supply chains;
    3. Which areas of your business or supply chains might be at risk of slavery or human trafficking (if any), and any steps you have taken to assess and manage those risks (and whether they have been effective);
    4. Any training you have provided to your team to ensure that slavery and human trafficking is identified and dealt with.

    When do I have to publish a statement by?
    Any business with a financial year end on or after 31 March 2016 must publish the statement within six months of the end that financial year, and then annually from then onwards.

    What happens if I don’t comply?
    You can be forced to comply by the Secretary of State through court proceedings.

    The BMF advises those members who were interested in advice on the Modern Slavery Act contact either Halborns direct on 0115 718 0333 or via the legal helpline on 0870 420 7373. Halborns will talk you through the process and explain the requirements of the Act.

    Halborns will issue you with a document that explained this and would enable you to draft your own statement based on a structure set out in the document. Halborns will need to charge a nominal fee for doing so of £100 + VAT a time. This would both be to cover costs in giving the telephone advice and to reflect the fact that the member would be relying on Halborns professional indemnity insurance   

    In the November 2016 edition of “Timber Forum News”, the BMF told members: 

    BMF & TTF launch guides to the Modern Slavery Act 
    The Builders Merchant Federation and the Timber Trade Federation have produced member guides to the Modern Slavery Act. 

    The Modern Slavery Act 2015 came into effect last year and aims to improve law enforcement and transparency on slavery and human trafficking. It is a major concern for goods with long, international supply chains. 

    The Act requires commercial organisations - which have a turnover equal to or larger than £36M - to describe the steps they have taken to ensure that slavery and labour exploitation are not taking place in any part of their supply chain or in any part of their own business. This must be published in an annual statement.

    It is important to note that timber certification schemes and the TTF’s due diligence framework (RPP) already include provisions to address Modern Slavery through the adherence to international labour laws and declarations. 

    The BMF’s employment lawyers Halborns can assist you with drafting your statement and ensuring you comply with the legislation. Contact Halborns for further guidance at  For any queries you can also contact Owen Walton - TF Communications and Research Executive - at   

    Click here for the official HM Government statutory guidance to employers.
    Modern Slavery Act 2015
    Does the Modern Slavery Act 2015 affect your building materials business?
    An Act to make provision about slavery, servitude and forced or compulsory labour and about human trafficking, including provision for the protection of victims; to make provision for an Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner