Last week the UK voted to leave the European Union. Despite various reports, it’s too early to say what effect the Brexit vote will have on the construction industry. Here’s some of the reaction from around the industry we’ve seen so far.
Steve Bratt, Group CEO of the Electrical Contractors’ Association (ECA)
“The legal situation today is still the same as the legal situation yesterday. We are still in the European Union, and will be for at least the next two years, so the industry needs to focus on its immediate priorities: improving the commercial terms we work with, adapting to and embracing emerging technologies, and ensuring we have a skills base that is fit for the future.
“The immediate priority for government is to work towards increasing confidence and stability in the economy, and creating an environment to encourage investment in construction and the wider engineering services sector. Many project approvals and starts were deferred as a result of the lack of clarity around the UK’s future in Europe, and the government and the National Infrastructure Commission need to make the necessary decisions and investments to ensure this delay does not extend any further and harm the sector and the businesses within it.
“We urge the government to think carefully before any agreements are reached that will impact on fundamental sector issues such as safety and skills. Investment in a skilled workforce is at the heart of our sector’s success and we want to see this further improved and supported.
“The ECA will continue to play a leading role within the wider engineering services sector and the business community, and will work with government to help create the best conditions for prosperity – and to ensure that our members and our industry are in the best position to survive and thrive.”
Brian Berry, Chief Executive of the FMB
“The UK construction industry has been heavily reliant on migrant workers from Europe for decades now – at present, 12% of the British construction workers are of non-UK origin. The majority of these workers are from EU countries such as Poland, Romania and Lithuania and they have helped the construction industry bounce back from the economic downturn when 400,000 skilled workers left our industry, most of which did not return. It is now the government’s responsibility to ensure that the free-flowing tap of migrant workers from Europe is not turned off. If Ministers want to meet their house building and infrastructure objectives, they have to ensure that the new system of immigration is responsive to the needs of industry.
“At the same time, we need to ensure that we invest in our own home-grown talent through apprenticeship training. We need to train more construction apprentices so we are not overly reliant on migrant workers from Europe or further afield. That’s why it’s so important that the government gets the funding framework right for apprenticeships – when you consider that this whole policy area is currently in flux, and then you add Brexit into the mix, it’s no exaggeration to say that a few wrong moves by the government could result in the skills crisis becoming a skills catastrophe. The next few years will bring unprecedented challenges to the construction and house building sector, and it’s only through close collaboration between the government and industry that we’ll be able to overcome them.”
Nathan Garnett, Event Director for UK Construction Week
“A new dawn for UK construction begins here. It is inevitable that our industry will experience a period of uncertainty and adjustment, but the construction sector has proved time and time again to be incredibly resilient. Now the result of the referendum is clear, we, as an industry, must move forward together with confidence. Leaving the EU will likely mean UK construction firms will be looking to invest in British products and services like never before.
“The UK boasts many long-term infrastructure projects and the Bank of England have made sound contingency plans for leaving the EU. The UK also has the foundations for a boom in house building, and the industry must and will be committed to meeting the national need for housing. Leaving the EU will inevitably attract new investors to our shores offering new opportunities, and that will happen sooner rather than later. The last few weeks and months have been uncertain for the UK construction industry, but now is the time to embrace the change and these new opportunities.”
Julia Evans, Chief Executive, BSRIA
“The decision is ‘out’ and the country has voted. But we now have some very serious questions for government: how do we maintain economic investor confidence? What does this mean for energy efficiency? And how will this impact the skills issue and how we should we address this? Specifically regarding labour – how will the industry access much-needed tradesmen? Industry needs to know answers to the questions!
“BSRIA calls on government to take the lead and show direction now. With the current housing shortage crisis – we ask how are we going to find the workforce with the right skills to build these? But we must not lose sight of the fact that house building volume cannot be at the expense of quality – so such skills shortage are even more acute.
“We also ask government where will direct investment now come from without EU financing and backing? If government is not going to make any necessary investment – where will it come from? And what of carbon reduction energy policies? Will these still be followed? Industry needs to be reassured and quickly.”