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Brexit: Professional bodies press skills concern

Professional bodies representing the constrution sector have written to the government's Brexit Minister David Davis to urge the importance of the industry's access to skills from Europe. The UK’s construction skills crisis could severely worsen, if steps are not taken to ensure access to a skilled workforce during the post-referendum negotiations, the letter says. 

The warning comes from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), the Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) and the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI). Their letter also outlines five other priorities that the government should focus on in light of the UK’s Brexit vote, including infrastructure investment and a continuing commitment to devolution.

RICS President, Amanda Clack FRICS, said: “Recent RICS figures have shown that we are in the grip of our worst construction skills crisis in almost 20 years. There is a real concern within our industry that if access to a skilled workforce is further restricted, Britain could stop building. My colleagues and I would urge government to keep this at the front of their minds when they come to negotiate our withdrawal from the EU."

Paul Nash, President of the CIOB said: “It’s essential that the voice of the built environment professional is heard clearly in the Brexit discussions. Globally, construction has always relied on migration to fill gaps in the labour market, so we need to have a sensible policy on migration that meets the needs both of the industry and wider society." 

The six priorities in full: 

Access to skills - The greatest strength of our sector is the skill of our workforce. The free movement of labour within the EU has been vital to the growth and flexibility)of the construction sector. Access to a skilled workforce of the highest quality  and  a focus on developing the next generation of home-grown talent are critical to ensure we can build the homes businesses and infrastructure we need to compete globally. We therefore urge the Government to explore options and approaches to ensure that this access is not impeded to the detriment of the built environment.

Common standards - We believe that the UK has much to gain from pursuing an approach that makes it easier to do business with trading partners new and old. Access to markets in the EU and around the world has transformed the UK construction sector. The mutual recognition of qualifications and the development of common technical standards have reduced the barriers our members face working abroad. Reducing tariffs and harmonising standards have helped UK firms of all sizes expand to Europe and beyond. These common approaches have also meant that UK businesses can support best-practice in environmental and product standards, supporting efforts on global issues such as climate change. It is imperative that governments in the UK protect and promote the UK’s role as a leader in environmental and consumer protection standards.

Research excellence - Our members have benefitted from the collaborative research that the EU has enabled and promoted. Our future success depends on maintaining these relationships, while forging new ties with research organisations around the world. In addition the continued success of our world class university courses training our young people in the built environment is essential  to the underpinning of research and the continued supply of labour for construction and allied activities.

Infrastructure investment - The UK’s global competitiveness will be hampered unless we do more to tackle the major infrastructure challenges we face. With a housing crisis, and growing concerns around energy, telecoms, road, rail and airport capacity, the Governments in the UK must seek and entice prospective investors to consider infrastructure of all kinds.  Providing confidence to the construction industry through infrastructure funding and development will provide stability during a period of uncertainty and ensure that the UK is well-placed to take advantage of growth opportunities in the future.

Devolution commitment- The referendum has brought divide between the different parts of the UK into sharp focus. Our organisations welcome the recent commitment to continuing the Northern Powerhouse and we believe that further devolution from Whitehall should be a key priority for the UK government as powers move from the European Commission. Devolution will enable a rebalancing of the economy so that all parts of the UK can benefit from any new opportunities arising from the UK’s new relationship with the European Union, and is an effective way of ensuring infrastructure spending is efficient, timely, coordinated and accountable. 

Community development – Through the extensive skills and experience of our members we are best-placed to advise on how the built environment can unlock new opportunities and combat existing challenges, as well as provide places for people to live, work and play. Leaving the EU could present a great opportunity for the UK, but it should not be associated with a drive to the bottom in the environmental and building standards which future generations will live with.

If you would like to contact Jon Masters about this, or any other story, please email jmasters@infrastructure-intelligence.com.