A numbers game

22 April 2019

Watching a magician perform at the North West Timber Trade Association annual dinner in Liverpool recently reminded me of the Brexit conundrum still facing the UK (in late March).

The magician had the ability to seemingly pull correct numbers and phrases out of thin air – surely something the Prime Minister would give her right arm for her at the moment. Instead she must feel like she is in a never-ending episode of Countdown, without any mathematical resolution to the magic number of MPs required to push a deal through Parliament.

There does seem to be a general weariness in the trade at the on-going uncertainty. People want to move on. Inevitably, the “B” debate has featured heavily in some of TTJ’s reports in recent months and those who attended the Timber Trade Federation’s excellent UK Softwood Conference recently were given a picture of possible different scenarios in the UK economy during 2019.

The CPA’s economic director Noble Francis certainly made a few people twitchy at the conference with some of his more nightmarish worst-case scenarios. But despite uncertainty, there were some positives, with softwood import volumes and consumption predicted to grow in 2019 (assuming a Brexit deal is reached) and consumers still continuing to spend despite uncertainty.

Olle Berg of Swedish sawmiller Setra confidently told delegates that the landscape was very different to that of the 2007-08 economic crisis and that UK housebuilding was still looking healthy, believing the country would be a “sound market” in the coming years.

I know I’ve said this before, but the timber trade has proved itself to be remarkably resilient over the years and able to adapt to new scenarios.

One company that has seen a lot in its history and has had to adapt is Price & Pierce, one of the most wellknown names in the UK and global timber trade.

I went to see MD Stephen Pitt in March about the company’s 150th anniversary. Proudly framed on the wall of its Woking offices is the 1869 original document of the formation of the company.

World wars, economic depressions, changes in trade practices, the advent of mass communication and a myriad of other challenges have all come and gone, with Price & Pierce moving through each one and continuing to find new ways of supplying timber products.

Stephen, who has spent a mere 41 years at the company, said he was once told that the big challenge is change. “Change is going to happen,” he was told. “The challenge for you is how are you going to manage that?” Today, the company is entering a new chapter in its history, as part of International Forest Products Group, part of the multi-billion dollar Kraft Group.

The management team is excited about new opportunities as part of IFP and I’ve little doubt that when all is said and done on Brexit, Price & Pierce – one of the UK timber trade stalwarts – and others like it will continue to make their mark in the timber supply chain.