Brexit options vital for UK construction sector
So the great Brexit door is swinging open, with the inevitable realignments in the UK economy now requiring serious consideration.
One of the bright spots since the Referendum has been construction, which covers about 6% of the economy. Recent figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show output rose 1.8% in December – against a prediction by economists of 1% – and a rise of 0.2% in the final quarter of 2016. New housing work and a stronger commercial sector are the primary drivers.
The immediate problem is skills: the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) reports that 8% of the construction workforce comes from the EU, which means that the sector could lose almost 200,000 workers post-Brexit if Britain loses access to the single market, which “would put some of the UK’s biggest infrastructure and construction projects under threat”, according to RICS.
RICS has highlighted the importance of securing continued access to the EU single market, or putting alternative plans in place to safeguard the future of the property and construction sectors.
A total of 30% of the construction professionals surveyed revealed that hiring non-UK workers was important to the success of their businesses.
A shortage of skills within the construction industry is already a big problem.
Ballet dancers are regarded as critical by the UK government, and are prioritised during the via application process, yet construction professionals have not yet been added to the “UK Shortage Occupation List”. RICS warns that this should be prioritised as to avoid putting the UK’s predicted £500bn infrastructure pipeline under threat.
When asked about the effectiveness of current plans to access the skills shortage, 20% of professionals felt that apprenticeship schemes were not effective.
RICS’ head of UK policy, Jeremy Blackburn, said: “A simple first step would be to ensure that construction professions such as quantity surveyors feature on the Shortage Occupations List. Ballet dancers won’t improve our infrastructure or solve the housing crisis, yet their skills are currently viewed as essential, whereas construction professionals are not.
“Of course, we must also address the need to deliver a construction and property industry that is resilient to future change, and can withstand the impact of any future political or economic shocks. Key to that will be growing the domestic skills base. As the industry’s professional body, we are working with Government and industry to develop that skills base, building vital initiatives, such as degree apprenticeships, in our sector to drive the talent pipeline forward. This survey reveals that more work needs to be done to promote the indisputable benefits of these schemes to industry, and RICS intends to take this forward as a priority.”
RICS is now calling on the government to secure a Brexit deal that supports construction, property and land sectors by:
- Laying out a clear timeline and set of ambitions
- Attracting private infrastructure investors
- Providing access to a skilled international workforce and develop.
- Agreeing on the “passporting” of professional services
- Capitalising on the chance to reset British agriculture.
There’s everything to play for, of course, and the key factor in the longer term is to develop the skills base within the UK. In the shorter term, it remains unclear whether EU workers will retain their rights to work in the UK and developments here are being closely watched by those invested in UK construction.