Builders' associations fear delays will hit members' cash flow and could affect up to a million businesses.
Small construction firms are facing potentially disastrous disruptions to their cash flow as a result of strikes by postal workers over the past two weeks.

Despite a breakthrough in talks between management and union leaders in the early hours of Monday, some items of mail will not reach their destinations until three weeks after they were posted.

The National Federation of Builders has expressed its fears that some small builders may be severely affected. Barry Stephens, chief executive of the NFB, said: "This strike could be very damaging to business. It will be weeks before the backlog is cleared and services get back to normal."

Royal Mail has a backlog of tens of millions of unsorted letters and some London letterboxes remain sealed.

A managing director at one small firm said it remained to be seen how much disruption the strikes would cause. He said: "I am awaiting a lot of essential information in the post, including cheques. If they are not with me within two weeks, I will begin to feel the strain."

He added that if the strikes had gone on any longer, his business would have faced extreme difficulties.

A fifth of post goes through London, so close to a million businesses could be affected

A spokesperson for the Federation of Small Businesses warned that the strike action in the South would affect firms throughout the country. He said: "We estimate that a fifth of all post goes through London, so close to a million businesses could be affected."

The spokesperson added that there are a million cheques posted every day, and that their prompt arrival is essential for many firms, particularly if they are under pressure from their banks.

The spokesperson said that using email, fax and other electronic communication channels had limited the damage, but that vital bits of paperwork relied on postal delivery.

He said: "Fundamental things, legal documents, contracts and cheques are still processed by Royal Mail."

The spokesperson urged all small businesses affected to talk to their bank managers and key suppliers.