Building is starting 2017 by launching a campaign to secure a fair deal for construction from Brexit

Sarah Richardson

If last year taught us little else (apart from the fact that it is possible for a man who believes climate change is a Chinese hoax to become leader of the world’s most powerful country), it certainly taught us to beware making predictions. But after 12 months that confounded pollsters, commentators and even the occasional cab driver, there still seems one safe bet for 2017 as far as headlines are concerned. And that is the continued dominance of Brexit, one of 2016’s biggest shocks, over the political and news agendas in the UK.

With the government insisting it will stick to its deadline of the end of March for triggering Article 50 – the move that would start the formal process of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU – concern is growing over how it will negotiate terms for a Brexit that will leave the UK in a secure position, politically and economically, for the future.

The impression that ministers are nowhere near unravelling the complexities of leaving the union was compounded by a farewell note to colleagues from Sir Ivan Rogers, who quit his post as British ambassador to the EU this week.

In the message, seen by the BBC, Sir Ivan emphasised the need to “challenge ill-founded arguments and muddled thinking”.

Fears are growing that the sector will find itself the Cinderella industry in the negotiations

Construction stands to face huge upheaval from Brexit, particularly in terms of labour availability, at a time when the government is relying on it rapidly to expand delivery of housing and major infrastructure schemes. But with other sectors of the economy already queueing up for “special pleading”, fears are growing among senior industry figures that the sector will, as in the past, find itself the Cinderella industry when it comes to crucial policy negotiations.

For this reason, Building is starting 2017 by launching a campaign to secure a fair deal for construction from Brexit. Called “Building a Better Brexit”, the initiative aims to ensure the industry’s concerns about the impact of Brexit are heard and understood by government, and that measures – either transitional arrangements, or permanent terms – are secured that will put the industry in the best position to deliver the country’s built environment needs. In addition, where businesses feel there are benefits to be gained from Brexit, we want to secure government support to help these happen.

The first phase of our campaign will see the magazine work with Lord Andrew Stunell, the former minister for building regulations, to inform a review that he is undertaking (on the initiative of Lord Newby, Liberal Democrat leader in the House of Lords) into the implications of Brexit for construction. Stunell’s review will be used to hold the government to account on the terms of its Brexit negotiations in the House of Lords, which, unless the government secures a surprise win at a court appeal later this month, will debate the UK’s withdrawal from the EU before it can trigger Article 50.

This week, we are calling on readers to respond to three headline questions on Brexit and the industry’s future, which you will find on page 9. These cover the kind of Brexit deal that would work for your company and the industry; transitional arrangements to help the sector deliver while the UK withdraws from the EU; and other measures, away from the EU negotiations, that the government could introduce to help the sector prosper.

Speaking to Building this week, Stunell warned that there was “a very real risk” that the industry’s views would be overlooked by ministers if the sector did not do more to put itself forward. And that must not be allowed to happen.

The government’s plans for the UK’s social and economic infrastructure require the industry to get bigger, not smaller. But if that same government is to avoid a disconnect between ambition and reality, the industry needs to make itself heard on the biggest political challenge of a generation.

Sarah Richardson, editor