MP Ed Vaizey tells construction firms they are right to worry about labour and materials shortages

Terry Farrell and Ed Vaizey at the launch of the call for evidence at the RIBA

Source: Agnese Sanvito

Terry Farrell and Ed Vaizey (right) at the launch of the Farrell Review

A former architecture minister has warned construction to brace itself for a no-deal Brexit as an increasing number of industry figures voice alarm about the UK leaving the EU without an agreement in place.

Ed Vaizey – who tasked Sir Terry Farrell with carrying out a review of architecture during his six-year term as culture minister – told Building firms were right to be worried about crashing out of the EU without a deal at the end of March.

Vaizey backed last week’s Brexit deal put forward by prime minister Theresa May but which MPs rejected by a majority of 230.

“It’s essential we leave with a deal,” he said. “We need to be able to import materials and labour with minimum fuss. Everyone should be worried and be prepared if they can. We have had a certain environment over the last 30 years that will suddenly change.

“It’s a fact of life that construction is global and sometimes we have to import labour and it should be able to source those skills from as wide a pool as possible.”

A report by Arcadis in 2017 said up to 200,000 EU construction workers could leave the UK by next year, depending on the type of Brexit the UK ends up with, prompting the consultant’s director of workforce planning, James Bryce, to warn: “[This is] not a skills gap. It is a skills gulf.”

Vaizey’s comments come ahead of the industry’s emergency summit on Brexit on Monday. Mace chief executive Mark Reynolds, a member of the government-backed Construction Leadership Council, which is convening the meeting, told Building: “The real fear [of no-deal] is over goods. My immediate worry is about imports and exports – it’s the biggest short-term risk.”

And 22 Bishopsgate developer Sir Stuart Lipton said the situation was “chaotic”. He added: “Access to labour and materials are an obvious concern.”

Worries about getting materials to site are growing, with one Swedish timber firm saying it didn’t know how much extra costs would be to transport its product to jobs in Northern Ireland because of the uncertainty over a no-deal Brexit.

Jeremy English, the UK sales director for £1.8bn-turnover firm Södra, said hauliers were reluctant to quote on costs to bring stock across the Irish Sea. “Our clients in Northern Ireland will have supply; we just can’t tell them how much the haulage is going to be,” he added.

In the immediate aftermath of last week’s Brexit vote, chancellor Philip Hammond held a conference call with the chief executives of some of the country’s biggest companies, including Balfour Beatty boss Leo Quinn, to reassure them he was doing everything he could to head off a no-deal Brexit.

Quinn is reported to have told Hammond that Brexit was threatening to put the industry back by decades, with the government holding back on making decisions about major infrastructure schemes such as HS2 and the Heathrow airport expansion.

And, following another update on Brexit this week from the prime minister, the CBI’s director-general Carolyn Fairbairn said “the slope to a cliff edge steepens”. The business group boss added: “No-deal must be off the table.”

MPs are next due to vote on the prime minister’s revised Brexit deal this coming Tuesday.