Published On: Thu, Nov 30th, 2017

Construction industry warns against Brexit ‘cliff edge’ for EU workers

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The construction sector has come together with one voice to warn the Government of the dangers of the industry facing a ‘cliff edge’ regarding access to EU workers.  In an unprecedented show of unity, seven of the construction industry’s major trade bodies have set out what they believe to be the sector’s responsibilities and requirements in a post-Brexit labour market.

The ‘Construction Industry Brexit Manifesto’ commits the sector to doing much more to recruit and train additional UK workers to reduce its future reliance on migrant labour. However, it makes clear that this will not be able to happen overnight and that, for some time, there will likely remain an ongoing need for significant levels of skilled EU workers.

The document sets down the industry’s key messages to the Government on what it will need from a post-Brexit immigration system in order to be able to deliver the Government’s strategic objectives for new housing and infrastructure:

• The Government should agree a transition period of at least two years as soon as possible, during which time EU workers arriving in the UK should continue to have a path to settled status
• The post-transitional migration system should be based on key occupations that are in short supply, rather than on arbitrary thresholds based on skill levels or income.

The Manifesto comes with the support of seven major construction trade bodies: Federation of Master Builders, Association for Consultancy & Engineering, Build UK, Civil Engineering Contractors Association, Construction Products Association, Home Builders Federation, and National Federation of Builders

Brian Berry, Chief Executive of the Federation of Master Builders, said: “The construction industry has been criticised in the past for being too disparate but it has come together here with one voice and set of clear messages. We know we need to step up as an industry and train more home-grown talent but we also have to be realistic about the future. There will continue to be some ongoing need for migrant workers and our post-Brexit migration rules will need to be fit for purpose.”

Dr Nelson Ogunshakin OBE, CEO of the Association for Consultancy & Engineering, said: “Without the skills that many EU nationals bring to the industry, we could be facing severe setbacks to the UK’s national infrastructure pipeline. ACE’s own surveys show that there is an increase in the number EU staff leaving the UK for jobs on the continent and this will only get worse if we do not bring certainty to EU workers’ residency rights. This Manifesto provides a road map for both Government and industry to ensure that the UK can continue to access world class talent to deliver world class construction.”

Suzannah Nichol MBE, Chief Executive of Build UK, said: “Construction, like other major industry sectors, has substantial concerns over the impact of Brexit on its ability to recruit, train and retain talent. It is essential that industry works together to present the need for an effective partnership between Government and industry, enabling us to deliver the UK’s infrastructure, homes and communities.”

Marie-Claude Hemming, Director of External Affairs at the Civil Engineering Contractors Association, said: “The UK’s decision to leave the EU will have a notable impact upon the ability of the infrastructure sector to source the skills needed for current and future projects. But if we are to ensure that the UK remains an attractive place to live and work in a post Brexit world, Government must maintain its focus on construction and infrastructure. To this end industry has joined together to publish a skills manifesto which we believe will enable our sector to continue to drive future economic growth. It is vital that industry and Government work together to ensure the UK’s global competitiveness is not impacted upon by delay in the delivery of world-class construction projects.”

Prof. Noble Francis, Economics Director at the Construction Products Association, said: “Access to the right skills will be absolutely critical for the whole construction supply chain in the next few years if it is to help Government achieve its aims of building more affordable housing and improving the UK’s infrastructure, which will be vital for boosting UK productivity.”

John Slaughter, Director of External Affairs at the Home Builders Federation, said: “With the Budget having confirmed a target to deliver 300,000 homes a year by the mid-2020s, home builders will need to continue to bring more skilled people into the industry. Companies are building on their existing investment through the successful work of the CITB-supported Home Building Skills Partnership and are committed to doing even more, but to deliver the national social and economic necessity of an improved housing supply we will also continue to need access to foreign workers under a manageable migration system.”

Richard Beresford, Chief Executive of the National Federation of Builders, said: “With the country facing a shortage of skilled workers and the most acute housing crisis in living memory, the Government needs to provide certainty to existing EU workers in the UK and enable construction SMEs to attract more home-grown talent into the industry.”

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