Securing domestic skills as well as the rights and movement of current EU construction workers was uppermost in the mind of the industry as triggering Article 50 set in motion Britain’s withdrawal from the EU earlier in the week.
Jeremy Blackburn, head of UK policy at RICS, said the government must remain committed to its infrastructure plan as well as ensuring exit negotiations brought the best possible deal for Britain.
He said: “Britain must retain its frontline position on the international stage. Delivering the airport hubs, high-speed rail networks and energy systems needed to make our cities and industrial hubs global competitors will be critical to our future success.
“However, it is unrealistic to expect government to deliver a successful Brexit without the full support of industry.
“Unless the free movement of skilled labour is secured during negotiations, we believe that the UK’s predicted £500bn infrastructure pipeline may be under threat. Our latest figures show that 8% of the UK’s construction workers are EU nationals, accounting for some 176,500 people. A loss of access to the European labour market has the potential to slowly bring some of the UK’s biggest infrastructure projects to a standstill.”
Patrick Flaherty, chief executive for UK and Ireland at Aecom, agreed that ensuring the UK infrastructure plans would be key to the UK’s future prosperity.
He commented: “Focus must remain on progressing the UK’s ambitious infrastructure pipeline to give confidence to the market in the intervening period. The delivery of large-scale domestic schemes such as HS2, Crossrail 2, a third runway at Heathrow and the Northern Powerhouse programme are critical to the country’s ability to compete on a global stage.
RIBA president Jane Duncan stated she had already written to all UK-based members to offer her assurances that the Institute will continue to support them and serve as a strong voice for the profession as the nations of the UK navigate a new relationship with the EU and the rest of the world.
She told RIBA members: “RIBA chief executive Alan Vallance and I have been regularly meeting with government ministers to take your thoughts and concerns right to the heart of government.
“We have taken the invaluable feedback you provided in our recent Brexit survey to produce the Global by Design report, which will help shape these conversations going forward.
“I was encouraged that mutual recognition of professional qualifications, a key concern for many of you, was recognised within the government’s Brexit White Paper.
“EU citizens, from outside the UK – people who we count as colleagues, friends and family – make a significant contribution to our profession. We would like to assure these colleagues that we are continuing to press government to ensure your rights are protected as a matter of priority.”
The National Federation of Builders (NFB) said the triggering of Article 50 provided the catalyst for the industry to focus on encouraging more British people into the sector.
With 35,000 new workers needed each year to cope with current demand, and just 20,000 apprenticeships started in 2015, the industry faces a shortage of skilled workers that needs to be addressed.
The NFB said the government should work towards an exit deal that helps the industry encourage more British people to undertake construction careers, whilst also adopting a flexible visa regime for construction workers once Britain has left the EU.
Richard Beresford, chief executive of the NFB, said: “The construction industry is undergoing a major skills crisis and remains heavily reliant on skilled workers from the EU, who make almost 10% of all construction workers in the UK. That is why we need to foster home-grown talent and attract more people from all backgrounds to join a career in construction.”