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United Living could stockpile material ahead of Brexit

United Living is considering stockpiling materials from the EU ahead of next year’s Brexit deadline, according to its chief executive.

With around nine months to go before the UK formally leaves the EU, Ian Burnett (pictured) told Construction News he was concerned about importing materials.

“I’ve always felt that labour-wise we’ll manage. My biggest fear is more around getting materials into the country,” he said.

As a result, United Living is looking at the possibility of stockpiling materials.

“It’s the what if scenario; what if the borders go up and suddenly the materials you want are on the other side of the Channel and we can’t get them over?” he said.

“That’s one of my fears and we’re looking at and toying with trying to get as much material as we can onto sites or into this country just to ensure that that doesn’t befall us.”

Mr Burnett said he was frustrated with the lack of clarity from the government over what it wanted from a final Brexit deal, calling on Westminster to give business owners more confidence on this front.

The CEO revealed his concerns as the social housing specialist reported a 33 per cent jump in turnover from £181m to £240m for the year to 31 March 2017.

This increase was due in part to the company doing more work on high-rise projects, such as the 26-storey South Thames College for L&Q.

“The size and scale of the jobs we’re doing has certainly increased over the last year or two,” Mr Burnett told CN.

The company is now considering expand its high-rise team as it looks to do more work in the private rented sector.

“There will be a need to expand the team in that particular area,” Mr Burnett said.

The social housing specialist’s turnover also benefited from a slowdown in project starts in 2016 that later came online in 2017.

“We got a bit of slippage last year that flowed into this year, which has meant the results this year have been increased,” Mr Burnett said.

United Living’s profit on an EBITDA measure increased in the year to March to £10.7m, compared with £9.5m in the previous 12 months.

Mr Burnett said: “Our financial success comes from a stringent review of risk-taking on projects and walking away from schemes when the balance is not acceptable.”

The company expects turnover to climb to around £275m for its 2018 financial year.

Mr Burnett’s long-term ambition is for United Living to be a £500m-turnover company, but he said it will not “take on work purely to become larger”.

“Am I interested in it becoming a half-a-billion-pound business in two or three years’ time? No, I’m not,” Mr Burnett said.

“It’s about getting the mix of work to maintain that bottom-line margin that I’m more interested in really.”

Mr Burnett said the company could achieve that level of turnover without running into trouble by “doing more of the same”.

“We probably have 3 per cent of the social housing market – it’s pretty small,” he said.

“If we had a 6 per cent share, nobody would think that’s ridiculous and we would have doubled the size of the business.”

United Living’s order book currently stands at more than £800m.

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