Peter Smallwood – Guild Public Affairs
With the court battles resolved and a bill working its way through Parliament at the time of writing, the government seems quietly confident that it can keep to its timetable to trigger Article 50. This will begin the formal procedure of withdrawing the UK from the EU. As the UK embarks on this process over the coming years, the construction industry (and indeed, the nation as a whole) will enter uncharted waters. We will be looking on with great interest for strong direction and outcomes.
Our experience from visiting clients throughout the UK is that certain themes dominate conversations: the skills crisis; the rights of EU workers to stay; and the rising cost of materials. We’ve had many of these conversations before – they’re not new – but, in the early uncertain stage of Brexit, it is important for the industry to feel that the government is seeking solutions.
Recent news reports have highlighted concerns on sites regarding the recruitment of EU workers post-Brexit. The fear is that the current uncertainty is causing experienced, highly skilled EU workers to think twice about coming to work in the UK. The reality is that skilled EU workers are pivotal to the UK construction industry and there is now genuine concern that the lack of certainty could have an effect on a significant number of construction projects. Now that the final process to leave the EU is underway, our stance on this issue must be one of the first to clarify – otherwise, the repercussions for the UK could be considerable.
Perhaps the most apparent impact of Brexit to date has been the rise in the cost of building materials and many medium and small contractors are cautiously watching the value of the pound and the state of the economy. It’s maybe a little early to press the panic button but the government must do all it can to keep the economy strong and grow the pound to ensure that material costs don’t cost jobs.
The Government has given the green light to a number of high profile infrastructure projects, such as HS2. There have also been billions promised for house building. Therefore, it is crystal clear there is plenty of work to do. However, it will not build itself so the government must do all it can to ensure that projects are not hindered. It would be very positive to see self-employed construction workers being the leading light in these projects.
The construction industry now appears to be at a crossroads and a wrong turn could lead to a potentially bleak outcome. It is clear that many of these issues won’t be solved overnight – indeed, the skills crisis could take a generation to put right – however, there are wins to be had right now.