Construction industry bodies have raised concerns over a leaked Home Office report outlining plans to reduce immigration, particularly in low-skilled roles, after the UK leaves the European Union.
The Confederation of British Industry, Arcadis, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, the Home Builders Federation and the British Property Federation have called on the government to safeguard access to EU labour or “face a skills cliff edge” in construction.
RICS policy manager Abdul Choudhury said that uncertainty was harming the UK’s attractiveness to foreign workers: “We would hope the government shows good judgement in treating the needs of the property and construction sectors as synonymous with the needs of the country.
“We are deluding ourselves if we think the current uncertainty isn’t harming our attractiveness to the workers we need and, with that in mind, the government’s future plan must be adjusted to meet the UKs needs.
“The current construction skills crisis is already disrupting our existing pipeline of work, and we also face a skills cliff edge in the next few years as a high number of construction workers are set to retire.
“Though the prospect exists to draw on a more global pool of labour, we cannot afford to simply lose access to such a valuable resource without any contingency plan in place at a time of such uncertainty and stress.”
According to Arcadis, the UK construction industry could lose out on up to 215,000 workers through to 2020 if the country follows a hard Brexit scenario, which would end freedom of movement.
Arcadis market intelligence lead Will Waller said the proposed immigration policy would not solve the construction skills shortage.
“This leaked document appears to describe a scenario in a similar vein, raising questions about how the UK construction’s skills shortage can be fully mitigated in such short timescales,” he said.
British Property Federation chief executive Melanie Leech called on the government to address the skills shortage as a matter of urgency.
“There are a huge number of workers coming from within and outside the EU currently,” she said.
“If we’re going to have a really ambitious housebuilding programme and we’re going to build the business infrastructure we need for the 21st century, we have to make sure we can staff the construction industry.”
CBI managing director for people and infrastructure Neil Carberry said an “open” approach was crucial.
“An open approach to our closest trading partners is vital for business, as it attracts investment to the UK,” he said.
“And, with employment high, it also helps keep our economy moving by addressing key skill and labour shortages.
“Businesses will look for the government’s final position paper to support an open but managed approach to immigration.
“That means taking the initiative to guarantee those already here that they can stay, a transition period with limited changes so firms can plan ahead, and a final system for the EU that is simpler and more open than the complex work permit system run for non-EEA countries.”
The warning from the industry came after the Guardian reported on a leaked Home Office report which outlined the government’s plans for immigration after the UK leaves the EU.
The draft proposals included a number of measures to clamp down on low-skilled labour from abroad.
The report put forward a number of policy proposals including offering EU migrants residency for a maximum of two years, with those from “high-skilled” occupations granted permits for between three and five years.