The Government has issued instructions for the closure of all non-essential businesses in order to prevent the further spread of the COVID-19 virus. However, the Government guidance specifically exempts “home and hardware” stores from the list of retail outlets which must close.

TTF has interpreted this to cover timber and builders merchants (which, for larger firms, would often fall under the category of ‘wholesale and logistics’ in business classification and thus be outside the scope for “retail”) and as such, would argue that there is no specific compulsion for builders merchants or timber distributors to close. Again, this is at the discretion of individual business owners.

However, since the announcement late on Monday evening a number of businesses have announced the closure of some or all branches. These include Howdens, Alsford Timber, and Huws Grey while Travis Perkins and Jewson announced a short 24hour closure while a board-level decision is made.

While it is clear that the Government wishes construction to continue Bovis Homes, Speller Metcalfe, Barratt Developments, Taylor Wimpey, ISG and Galliard all announced an immediate shut down with some staff remaining on site simply to make them secure and safe.

Barratt Developments said: “We have taken the decision to temporarily close our 400 offices and sites across the country. We are in the process of doing this safely and securely, as quickly as possible.”

Robert Jenrick tweeted after Boris Johnson’s speech: “Advice for the housing, construction & building maintenance industries: If you can work from home, do so. If you are working on site, you can continue to do so. But follow Public Health England guidance on social distancing.”

“There have been no specific instructions to close construction sites,” confirmed Build UK.

The TTF statement reads: “The TTF has been supporting CPA, CLC and Build UK to keep cash flowing in construction, as we believe this supply chain is vital to the wider economic health of the UK. We remain concerned for the many contractors in the industry who are yet to receive relief from Government. We also believe at times like this, builders, plumbers and other agents of commercial and domestic construction could be viewed as key workers, as they conduct essential repairs and keep our built environment safe for home and office workers alike.

“We are continuing to call for sector specific advice along with our partners in the supply chain, and are working to get greater clarity between conflicting messaging. In the absence of specific advice or leadership in the sector from Government, we must work to the best of our ability to employ all health measures possible, and come together to ensure the safety of our employees, customers and businesses.”

The TTF has created a COVID-19 web resource outlining the latest advice and development to the industry. CLICK HERE to access.

The Grafton Group, which includes brands such as Selco, Buildbase, Leyland Paints and The Timber Group released a statement outlining their decision “To close all our distribution branches and manufacturing plants in the UK for the next three weeks subject to receiving clarification from Government on the supply of materials through a small number of branches to support essential repair and maintenance activity.”

"Our primary concern at this time is the health and wellbeing of our colleagues, customers and the communities where we operate.  Grafton is in a strong financial position with excellent liquidity and I am confident that the Group will emerge from this period of uncertainty in a position of strength," said Gavin Slark, chief executive officer.

We will update this news item as a clearer picture emerges and more companies make firm decisions whether to stay open or close down their operations.