Brexit Is Anyone Listening


Brexit and Construction: Is anyone listening?

Skills Shortage, Trades & Labour

An article by Building last week discussed how the construction industry feels sidelined by the government in its vision for Brexit, complaining that ministers just aren’t listening. But is the sector itself partly to blame for failing to present a clear and unified voice? You can read a summary of the article below.

In less than seven months the UK will sever its formal ties with the EU after more than four decades of close co‑operation – some would say too close – in order to “go it alone”. 

Ever since Article 50 was triggered 18 months ago, UK government negotiators have been in locked in talks with their opposite numbers in Brussels over what will be the terms of the country’s relationship with Europe come Brexit Day on 29 March next year. But these discussions have been tortuously slow and seem to have yielded little. With the clock ticking, there urgently needs to be more meaningful progress towards a deal on which all sides agree. Have you discussed of Brexit will affect your sites, do you have a plan in place?

While there have been calls in certain political circles for a “no-deal” exit, the construction industry is clear that leaving the EU without a deal would be disastrous for the sector – with a worsening of skills shortages just one of the likely negative effects.

“While we’ve had some good conversations, there isn’t much coming out the other side” Alan Vallance, Riba 

So with only months to go before the UK economy steps into the unknown, the charge is that ministers have not acted adequately to enable construction firms to plan for the outcome of Brexit and reassure them that leaving the EU – deal or no deal – won’t leave them out of pocket, bereft of the investment, staff and the materials they need in order to build the homes the country needs and the infrastructure to go with it.  

Brexit and Construction: Is anyone listening?A sense of abandonment 

The results of Building’s survey of more than 600 individuals suggest many feel abandoned by ministers, with 65% believing the government is not interested in getting the construction sector a good deal. Just one in 10 thought it was.

Depleted workforce

Don O’Sullivan, Galliard Homes’ chief executive, agrees, not least because of fears of a depleted industry workforce from next March. “Brexit will trigger an employee shortage in the construction sector as European workers won’t be replaced and others may leave as we exit the EU. No one in government is advising us,” he says.

Government engagement

The government says that while freedom of movement will end, the UK will still welcome the brightest and best to its shores. This may cater for university-educated high-flyers or those with a few million pounds to invest in the UK, but it’s less clear where this leaves site workers from eastern Europe coming here to help us build the new homes, schools, hospitals and infrastructure the country needs.

Unclear position

Suzannah Nichol, Build UK’s chief executive, says: “Every meeting and discussion we have with government is framed by Brexit. My team at Build UK works closely with the CBI and the heads of the other major sectors, as while there are some sector specific issues the majority of concerns are shared across the business community. We are pushing ministers and officials hard for certainty and clear policy that will help our members keep Britain building.”

Ann Bentley, global board director of Rider Levett Bucknall and a CLC member, agrees that the CBI –

Common sense

Others take a less proactive, but perhaps more pragmatic view. Redrow chief executive John Tutte says he and others “would like to see some clarity as to where we are at, and while you have uncertainty, you always have caution.

“We don’t want a really bad deal, but you have to have a point where you need to be in a position to get up and walk away. You would hope common sense will prevail. The EU needs a deal as well.”

And Colin Lewis, chief executive of Chesterfield-based housebuilder Avant Homes, acknowledges the level of detail from government has been inadequate, but wonders what ministers are supposed to do. “Yes, I want to see more clarity but I also appreciate that the government doesn’t want to give too much away when negotiating.”  

Lewis thinks the House Builders Federation has done a “cracking job” of representing the sector’s interests when dealing with Whitehall, but he also believes ministers might have more on their plate than worrying about what housebuilders think.

“That said, I share the concern around the level of uncertainty and I’m very supportive of a drive for greater clarity about what’s going on. But honestly, I don’t think the government knows either.”  

You can read the full article here

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