Construction leaders debate the pros and cons of leaving the EU at the latest UK Construction Week EU Referendum advisory panel.
Taking place at Grimshaw Architects’ head office in, and hosted by Brian Kilkelly, Development Lead of Climate KIC and Founder of World Cities Network, the event was framed by the findings of UK Construction Week’s EU Referendum survey, which received over 3,000 respondents – representing the most comprehensive canvas of opinion within the sector on the EU vote, due to take place on 23 June 2016. The headline result of the survey revealed that 57% of construction professionals want to remain in the EU, while 43% wish to leave.
Nathan Garnett, Event Director for UK Construction Week, commented: “The EU referendum survey has been a real eye-opener and clearly shows that the vote will be very close within the construction industry. Indeed, across every profession the split of opinion has been relatively equal – only architects showed a clear majority with 71% in favour of staying in the EU.
“Whichever way the vote goes on the 23 June it’s clear to see that there will be a lot of people within the industry who will be nervous of what is to come. UK Construction Week will be a great opportunity for the sector to come together and drive business forward, discuss the key issues and challenges facing the industry and build a stronger future for everyone employed in or impacted by the sector.”
The debate was started by looking at the housing crisis and Brian asked the panellists for their responses to the finding that contractors are almost three times more likely to say the crisis would be made better by leaving the EU than staying. Brian Berry, Chief Executive of the Federation of Master Builders (FMB), responded by saying he thought that leaving the EU would reduce investment in housing.
All of the panellists agreed that the housing crisis was by no means a result of being part of the EU and immigration with FMB’s Chief Executive highlighting that longer life expectancies, the increased number of people living individually and inadequate construction output levels were the main culprits.
“UK Construction Week provided a refreshingly grown-up debate of the issues people and businesses were not seeing addressed.”
The debate moved on to the skills shortage and revealed a clear divide in opinion among the panellists. Host Brian was of the opinion that remaining in the EU makes it much easier for knowledge transfer between different countries while Paul Scully, the Conservative MP for Cheam and Sutton, said that Brexit widens the talent pool beyond the EU and means the UK can attract the best in the world and not just the best in Europe more easily.
Major infrastructure projects were also a hot topic of conversation. David Cash highlighted that the UK has pledged a large amount of investment into infrastructure projects and that leaving the EU casts this into uncertainty. Cezary Bednarski, Architect at Studio Bednarski, countered this opinion by saying that if there is money to be made in the UK, money will come to the UK – sourcing other funding outside of the EU for projects will not be an issue.
Interestingly, Paul Scully added to the argument that leaving the EU should result in a greater percentage of smaller firms and local contractors getting a larger slice of major project work, as the UK will be able to leave the EU procurement process. Indeed this optimism is reflected in the survey results, which show that two-thirds of architects, managing directors and business owners believe that leaving the EU will provide additional opportunities to the UK.
At the end of the debate, each of the panellists was asked to indicate how they would be voting in the upcoming referendum. The result was in line with the results of UK Construction Week’s survey with Brian Berry, David Cash and Mark Middleton voting to remain and Paul Scully and Cezary Bednarski voting to leave.
Paul Bogle, Head of Policy and Research at the National Federation of Builders (NFB), was in attendance and found the event helpful. “The NFB has been supporting its members with regular, impartial EU-related information to help them make sense conflicting messages,” he said. “UK Construction Week provided a refreshingly grown-up debate of the issues people and businesses were not seeing addressed.”