WILTSHIRE: A Liberal Democrat MP paid a visit to the Melksham branch of Buildbase. His aim: to discover how the building materials' supply chain is evolving through difficult conditions.
Duncan Hames MP is the latest of a long line of political figures to visit builders' merchants throughout the UK.
The campaign to get merchants to meet MPs was conceived by the Builders' Merchants Federation 18 months ago and is helping to bridge the divide between industry and Whitehall.
Mr Hames visited the award-winning £500m national business. Buildbase Melksham celebrated its fourth anniversary this month. Its home improvement activity is seen as a way to revitalise local Wiltshire economy. The company's major supply chain activity demonstrates how voters can cut bills and save money.
The visit, hosted by branch manager Lea Carter, showed the MP How the building materials' supply chain is evolving through difficult conditions and responding to the carbon challenge.
The politician learned more about everyday trade essentials and home improvement products – and the outlook for Buildbase's main markets. Mr Hames also had time to talk to branch staff about the sales of building, insulation and timber materials.
Buildbase is investing heavily to showcase energy and water-saving solutions for both its trade and retail customers. The MP was also able to see some of the renewable energy products that are on the market.
Praising the success of Mr Carter and his staff, Mr Hames remarked: "I was delighted to visit the busy Melksham branch of Buildbase. I welcomed the chance to discuss the Government's proposed Green Deal with staff members, in particular, the ways in which we can help people living in our area make the most of the opportunity to improve home energy-efficiency and reduce the cost of their energy use once the legislation is passed by Parliament."
Mr Hames was also told how merchants are helping his government to bring policies like the Green Deal to life and how a 5% VAT rate would revitalise local repair, maintenance and improvement activity.
Buildbase has achieved a number of industry firsts in sustainable timber. In 2004, it became the first national merchant to stock timber certified under the Forest Stewardship Council's Chain of Custody scheme in all its branches.
Two years later, Buildbase claimed to be the first merchant to stock FSC hardwood plywood. In 2010, it also claimed to be the first merchant to supply Q-Mark plywood, an internationally-recognised standard. Buildbase regional director, Neil Parsons, shared some of the company's current thinking. "We have run the business over the last 15 years on a programme of ambitious expansion.
"Buildbase has increased its branch network in the South West to 15 outlets over the last four years. Some of this expansion is due to acquisitions, though the majority are greenfield branches at new locations. Melksham is one of these new sites. This expansion has lead to the creation of nearly 100 local jobs and a training and career development programme to match.
"Thanks to a very loyal, hardworking and knowledgeable workforce – allied to an excellent and comprehensive stock range – we believe we offer our customers a first-class service." Mr Parsons added: "We are thinking ahead to year 2020 and the carbon reduction targets that will apply then. Buildbase is already looking at planned investments, product lines and recruitment to drive the business forward during the decade ahead. We aim to bring new products to the market to support people to remove emitted and embedded carbon from properties – and those who install renewables.
"Our managers believe there is pent-up demand in most districts – a demand which has been restricted by a lack of confidence and economic uncertainty."
According to the BMF, the most urgent carbon challenge is to improve the thermal performance of buildings. Mr Hames' visit was timed to coincide with the Energy Bill being taken in the House of Commons by party colleague, Chris Huhne MP, Secretary of State for Energy & Climate Change.
The majority of the Bill brings in the Green Deal. This is a financial package designed to allow residential and commercial properties to have energy-saving work done on a 'pay-as-you-save' basis. The aim is to tackle under-investment in existing buildings.
The Green Deal will enable voters to have measures fitted without being liable for the capital outlay. Costs are recouped over a fixed period, in instalments, through electricity and gas bills. The proposals are timed to come into effect in late 2012.
Speaking about the Green Deal, Brett Amphlett, organiser of the visit and BMF policy manager, explained: "The BMF welcomes the Green Deal. It is ambitious, forward-looking and tackles the intractable problem of improving thermal performance.
"We are quietly getting on with efforts to formulate workable proposals with ministers and officials in Mr Hames' Coalition Government.
"The Green Deal is predicated on routine work, done by local trained & competent people, delivered in large volumes, every day of the week, away from Whitehall and the London-based media, in towns like Melksham.
"Our supply chain is uniquely placed to assist politicians like Duncan Hames to move towards a low-carbon future. We urge all MPs to take time to explain and persuade constituents to carry out energy-saving work to improve thermal performance, cut bills and save money.
"Successful companies like Buildbase are typical of an established supply chain that stands ready to respond. Sales, jobs and growth depend on it becoming a successful industrial policy.
Shown in the photograph are: Brett Amphlett (BMF), Duncan Hames MP, Neil Parsons (regional director, Buildbase) and Lea Carter (branch manager, Buildbase). Mr Hames is being shown the latest insulation products such as thermal boards that are used in floors, walls and roofs.