Our campaign for a better Brexit deal for the industry features eight key demands
And so, the countdown begins. This week, parliament granted prime minister Theresa May the right to trigger Article 50, the mechanism which will begin the formal process of the UK leaving the EU. At the same time, a calculator’s throw away from Whitehall, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors published research showing the industry stands to lose almost 200,000 workers when the UK gives up access to the single market. In doing so, it added to warnings over the threat to vital British infrastructure and construction schemes if the sector is overlooked in the detail of Brexit negotiations.
Concerns like this have been emerging with increasing regularity since the Leave vote last summer, with industry researchers scrambling to quantify what any walk past a construction site will tell you: without EU labour, construction’s labour pool would shrink unrecognisably overnight. There has been a similar flurry of concerns surrounding the £6bn of materials and products imported annually from the EU, with procurement organisation Scape now warning that the cost of these could rise by 10% with Brexit.
Meanwhile, those looking on Brexit as offering opportunity for the sector have also become steadily more vocal. Building’s most recent readership survey on the repercussions of the referendum drew out a series of pleas for the government to seize the moment to free the sector from much-maligned bureaucracy associated with OJEU procurement rules: one respondent, typical of many, summarised them as “awful and costly”.
Back in January, Building launched its Building a Better Brexit campaign to raise government awareness of what the sector needs from a Brexit deal, to enable the industry to deliver the vital social and economic infrastructure the country’s leaders have promised.
The readership survey we carried out, with responses from more than 2,300 professionals, drew out a string of commonly supported priorities from the sector under both transitional arrangements and a full Brexit deal. Your responses, shared with Lord Andrew Stunell, have already informed a challenge in the House of Lords to the government’s apparent silence on the impact on construction, with Lord Stunell making the case for what he termed this “very important but so far completely ignored sector”.
For the industry to make a success of a post-Brexit economy, it also needs to up its game
This week, we are launching the next phase of our campaign: a manifesto laying bare what the industry needs in order to deliver post-Brexit, distilled into a series of key recommendations. These have been informed by our reader research and subsequent discussions with senior figures across the industry spectrum. Our plan contains eight key demands for government, covering areas such as skills, materials and procurement. But that is only half of the story.
Theresa May said in launching the government’s recent industrial strategy that deals to support sectors would only be made available if these sectors organise themselves and make the case for action; essentially, the government will help those who help themselves.
One message that is emerging strongly from the sector – but so far, does not appear to have hit home with the government – is that the industry recognises that getting the right Brexit deal is a two-way street. For the industry to make a success of a post-Brexit economy, it also needs to up its game around training, innovation and – that uncomfortable, but deep-rooted problem – its own poor image as an employer.
For this reason, alongside our calls on the government, the Building a Better Brexit manifesto includes a pledge for construction firms to sign up to, committing to take action in these areas.
We will use the manifesto to lobby the government over the industry’s importance, and its needs, in a post-Brexit economy. We will also use it to emphasise what the sector, and the economy, stand to lose if the sector is ignored, and the prizes – new homes, schools, infrastructure – on offer if the government will work with it to secure its future.
Companies including Gleeds, KPMG, Mace and Arcadis have this week backed the manifesto at its launch, together with former RIBA president Jack Pringle and Farmer review author Mark Farmer. We now urge you to add your voice to theirs.
By doing so, you will help us to show government that this is a sector that knows what it needs to make a success of Brexit – and is more than ready to play its part in getting there.
Sarah Richardson, editor