Politics is only part of the question, though. As Building revealed last week, even such an apparently uncontroversial proposal as offering short-term work visas has ramifications. Unions say it will lead to further casualisation and give bad employers an excuse to cut wages and safety standards – which is why the suggestion that the Home Office might offer an amnesty to illegals is such a bad one. Contractors are jittery about illegal workers, too – even though some persist in using them. In May, the Construction Confederation issued guidelines stating that "it may be acceptable to refuse to employ non-English speaking personnel" if there was a safety risk.
Wilson has told the Home Office, which is reviewing illegal working: "My preference is that everyone working on a building site should be employed legally." Quite so. But the "regulated environment" that Wilson wants will be harder to create than it sounds. First, to assess the numbers it requires, the industry will need firmer workload predictions than usual. Then it has to match individuals to vacancies, which is a little harder in construction than medicine. And third, even if Blunkett does make immigrants learn English, firms must still consider "dual language" sites on safety grounds; or, as the Construction Confederation suggests, cluster non-English speakers under a supervisor who doubles as interpreter. The immigration debate easily descends into hysteria; what construction needs is serious thought and cool heads. Over to you, Brian.
The way the wind's blowing
Building got lucky this week. Our Commons reception on Monday – booked a year in advance – turned out to be on the most glorious evening of the year so far (page 17). For weeks the weather's been what the Met Office euphemistically calls "unsettled". The Times even reported that summer may only last for five days in late July. But whereas the public can hop on a plane, there's no escape for Britain's battered builders. And it's not just that a downpour immobilises the scaffolders, or a sudden gale makes tiling unsafe. Despite our increasingly volatile climate, clients are ceasing to allow contractors to claim for weather-related delays (pages 22-23). Hopefully, new Met Office forecasting technology will allow firms to plan more confidently. But with flooding likely to worsen as the century progresses, the long-range outlook is stormy. Oh, and Wimbledon starts on Monday.