Losing single market access will create construction crisis, surveyors’ trade body warns

The UK will face a construction industry crisis if it loses access to the single market, an influential trade body warned today.

The UK’s construction industry could lose more than 175,000 EU workers – 8 percent of the total workforce – without single market access, the Royal Institution for Chartered Surveyors (RICS) said.

Such a loss would put some of the country’s biggest infrastructure and construction projects under threat, the institution warned.

RICS made the statements following its latest quarterly survey, conducted during the last three months of 2016, in which 30 percent of construction professionals surveyed revealed that hiring non-UK workers was important to the success of their businesses.

The companies that would be hit hardest are those working on large construction projects, the survey showed.

Commenting on the RICS survey, Unite acting general secretary Gail Cartmail, said: “This survey demonstrates once again that the government’s failure to guarantee the rights of existing EU citizens is playing fast and loose with the well-being of the UK economy. The ongoing uncertainty over the rights of EU citizens to remain in the UK post-Brexit is already resulting in workers voting with their feet and leaving the UK.

RICS called on the government to secure single market access or make new plans that would make it easy for construction firms to hire non-EU nationals to replace lost workers.

The institution also said construction workers should be placed on the UK shortage occupations list, so that skilled building workers from abroad are short-listed for visas.

RICS UK policy head, Jeremy Blackburn, said: “These figures reveal that the UK construction industry is currently dependent on thousands of EU workers.

“It is in all our interests that we make a success of Brexit, but a loss of access to the single market has the potential to slowly bring the UK’s £500bn infrastructure pipeline to a standstill. That means that unless access to the single market is secured or alternative plans are put in place, we won’t be able to create the infrastructure needed to enable our cities to compete on a global stage.

“A lot of big projects may set up their own training centres but they will still need an international pool of labour. A simple first step would be to ensure that construction professions, such as quantity surveyors, feature on the shortage occupations list. Ballet dancers won’t improve our infrastructure or solve the housing crisis yet their skills are currently viewed as essential, whereas construction professionals are not.”

RICS was clear that the construction industry is “already in the grip of a construction skills crisis.”

Blackburn said: “We must also address the need to deliver a construction and property industry that is resilient to future change and withstand the impact of any future political or economic shocks – key to that will be growing the domestic skills base…building vital initiatives, such as degree apprenticeships, in our sector to drive the talent pipeline forward. This survey reveals that more work needs to be done to promote the indisputable benefits of these schemes to industry.”

Unite’s Gail Cartmail said the government needs to take prompt action over the skills crisis.

She said: “It is essential that the government wakes up to the threat faced to the UK construction industry by reversing decades of neglect and massively increasing the number of high quality apprenticeships so the UK can increasingly become self-sufficient.

“This will not be achieved unless the government introduces strict public procurement policies forcing companies bidding for all public sector contracts to recruit and train high numbers of apprentices. The lassiez faire model of construction apprentice training has been an unmitigated failure.”