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Brexit and the construction industry

  • Now that Article 50 has been triggered, the lengthy and complex process of Brexit negotiations is underway and we will quite clearly not be aware of all of the facets that apply until much further down the line when associated matters for each item of negotiation, have also been settled. Because there are a number of over lapping polices and issues which will probably need to be decided as one rather than piece meal.  One such issue is the retention of EU workers.

    As I have said previously in terms of the Brexit decision last June, it has had a positive effect on the UK housing market in many ways and high demand for new homes continues to keep the market buoyant.  The future for the UK outside of EU bureaucracy is in my opinion, very much in our interests because we have a strong and growing home grown housing market although we will clearly need the work force to deliver the ambitious targets required by the government.  In this context however, Housebuilders outside of the major conurbations such as London and Greater London have a much lower requirement for foreign labour than those that are directly involved with central London, Zones 1 and 2, this will be similar for our other major cities.   In a recent survey carried out by Millwood, we found that less than 3% of our onsite workers are from the EU or from outside.

    It is the opinion on the RICS that unless we retain access to the single market that we could lose around 100,000 of our workers and potentially threaten infrastructure and other projects, primarily in cities.  This is of course an opinion and not a matter of statistical fact, and whilst it is all well and good that they should “warn” of what might happen, the Government has repeatedly said that it will be looking to achieve the very best deal that it can for UK Plc, in this context the statistics are available to central Government for every sector of our industry, and from a personal viewpoint, I find it absurd that one of our professional bodies should actually seek to put numbers on their assumptions when the process for negotiating our way out of the EU has only very recently begun.  It seems fairly clear from the information that I have seen that the wider housing market delivered in our towns and villages outside of the central conurbations, is unlikely to be affected to any great extent, if at all.

    The UK is already facing a construction skills shortage and these figures only serve to highlight how important it is that we invest in the future of the domestic construction industry and begin to plug the skills gap.  We obviously need to think longer and harder about how we encourage young people in the industry and support them throughout their career.

    The government has pledged to create 3 million apprenticeships by 2020 and construction is one of the key areas for these, signalling its commitment to drive through this pledge.  They have introduced a new apprenticeship levy, which all employers with an annual wage bill of over £3 million will have to contribute.  Other initiatives such as the introduction of degree apprenticeships are a way of developing a higher skills base within the sector as current provisions for apprenticeship schemes do not go far enough.  So, we need a wholesale shift in the perception of construction and house-building as a career choice, and we need to make clear the breadth of career options and exciting opportunities that do exist within our sector.

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