Britain’s construction industry faces a severe crisis unless post Brexit safeguards are put in place, the largest trade association in the UK construction industry has warned.
A report jointly published by seven of the UK construction sector’s largest trade bodies on November 29, has warned the British government it is facing a “cliff edge” if it fails to implement a two-year grace period for EU workers.
The Construction Industry Brexit Manifesto sets out the industry’s responsibilities and requirements in a post-Brexit labor market but also calls for the government to implement a post-transitional migration system on key trades where workers are in short supply.
One in eight construction workers in the UK are from abroad — of which 60 percent are from European Union countries — but in some areas of Britain, they form the vast majority of staff on sites.
In an interview, Sarah McMonagle, director of external affairs at the Federation of Master Builders, revealed some EU workers have already quit Britain and returned home following the fall in sterling and uncertainty in UK attitudes.
“We have already experienced many workers leaving the UK and going back to Europe as a result of the fall in sterling which has seen their wages being worth less. They are seeing less bang for their buck and this has influenced many to go back to their EU countries and this could have serious implications for the construction industry in Britain as we are losing key workers. What we need is for the government and industry to launch a communications exercise that tells them ‘you are valued and welcome in the UK’ before the situation worsens,” she told Sputnik.
With the British government announcing in its budget the need to build in excess of 300,000 homes a year by 2025, Ms. McMonagle, warned the loss of more EU workers could cause a “severe skills shortage.”
Worryingly, she added, falling unemployment in Britain meant there was now a shortage of people who could be recruited, trained and employed in the industry in future.
Previously the British government released a technical paper outlining the details of a two year grace period for EU nationals to apply for settled status once the UK leaves the bloc so they can remain in Britain.
The Construction Industry Brexit Manifesto insists, however, that the government should now go further and provide greater detail of its proposals, giving EU nationals more certainty about their future.
In it, the industry says, the government should agree a transition period of at least two years, during which time EU workers arriving in Britain should continue to have a plan to settled status.
It argues also that 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.
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,” she said.
With the budget having set a target of delivering 300,000 homes a year by the mid 2020s, home builders will need to continue to bring more skilled people into the sector, explained John Slaughter, director of external affairs at the Home Builders Federation.. “
Britain is already facing the most acute housing crisis in living memory, according to Richard Beresford, chief executive of the national federation of builders.
“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,” he added.