With local and regional elections out of the way, the countdown to the poll that could potentially have the biggest effect on the country has now begun in earnest
It is now just six weeks until the UK votes on whether to remain part of Europe. With local and regional elections out of the way and a new mayor installed in London’s City Hall, the countdown to the poll that could potentially have the biggest effect on the country as a whole has now begun in earnest. And with it, both sides of the debate have been ratcheting up the rhetoric. Depending on who you believe, Brexit will “raise risk of war”, “make Britain safer” or - in a move that has particularly exercised the drinks lobby north of the border - “hit Scottish whisky exports”.
The “yes/no” nature of the EU question inevitably fuels a starkly polarised debate - but ironically, the intense political sensitivity has made many industries, construction included, reluctant to speak out. For this reason, last month Building launched its own research exercise to gauge the industry’s views. The results, published today, are clear. Almost two-thirds of the industry, 63%, believe the sector would be better off remaining in Europe. This compares with 21% who believe it would be better to leave, and 16% yet to make up their mind.
The main reasons behind this support for remaining in Europe are threefold. The biggest concern the industry has about Brexit is that it would hit foreign investment, with a potential impact on the commercial sector in particular - 64% of respondents believed that the sector would be damaged if the UK were to leave. More than half of respondents also feared higher labour costs or shortages, as UK construction’s heavy reliance on migrant labour is exposed. A similar percentage also feared shortages and price rises in materials.
There may be just 41 days until the vote, but the outcome will be felt for years, possibly decades,
As you would expect, there are divisions of opinion behind these headline findings, but one of the striking aspects of the research is that support for remaining in Europe is not dramatically split by business size or type. Small businesses, for example, are often typically expected to take a leave stance due to the perceived burden of regulation. But 53% of those working for these firms still felt it would be better to remain in Europe, compared with 21% who thought the industry would fare better were it to leave. Similarly, even among the part of the supply chain most in favour of leaving - subcontractors, 27% of which wanted out - this was heavily outweighed by support for remaining, at 46%.
Another arresting feature of the research is the overwhelming interest the sector has in the referendum. This was evident in the volume of responses to the survey - more than 1,300 in the space of a week - and in the fact that almost 70% said the potential impact of the outcome on their business would be either medium or high.
For all of these reasons - the clear perceived risks to the sector if the UK were to leave the EU, the pan-industry support for remaining, and the significance of the issue to the industry - Building is this week backing the remain campaign, and launching its own initiative to amplify the sector’s views, as expressed in our research.
Construction, as a sector contributing 6.5% of GDP, needs to have its voice heard as part of the wider public and economic debate, and Building is committed to making that happen. Companies including Mott Macdonald, JLL and Mace have already joined our public call for the UK to remain part of the union. To add your voice, please write to us at email@example.com or tweet using the hashtag #BuildingSaysIN.
In addition to our campaign, we are launching a dedicated area of our website, devoted to the referendum and its impact on the built environment. This will include a resource section with independent, politically neutral economic information and analysis of the impact on construction of remaining and leaving, contributed by our network of industry economic and legal experts. It will also provide a platform for the sector to continue to debate the issues at stake, as well as showcasing support for our campaign.
There may be just 41 days until the vote, but the outcome will be felt for years, possibly decades, to come. Construction, like every other sector, has only one chance to make itself heard.
Sarah Richardson, editor