Over 2,000 survey responses show free movement of workers and freedom from trade tariffs are priorities

Building A Better Brexit

The construction industry has called on the government to protect it from the likely negative impact of a “hard Brexit”, in an exclusive Building survey of more than 2,000 readers.

A high proportion put securing the maximum free movement of construction workers and protecting the import and export of construction products from tariffs as their two top priorities.

An overwhelming majority (84%) said some or all construction workers should have free movement under the final Brexit deal, while the same proportion felt there needs to be a clearer plan to tackle skills shortages before any visa restrictions are imposed.

When it came to trade agreements, more than two-thirds (68%) said the UK should be a full or partial member of the EU’s customs unions to protect the movement of products across Europe.

Building conducted the survey as part of our Building a Better Brexit campaign to highlight the specific needs of construction prior to the government’s negotiations to leave the EU.

The results of the survey are published in full in this issue and online and will inform a review by Lord Andrew Stunell for the House of Lords into the implications of Brexit for construction.

Respondents were keen for a lengthy transitional period for Brexit - 43% said it should be five years or more, 38% said two-to-four years - putting them at odds with a government looking at a swift exit.

A loss of access to skilled EU workers was clearly the biggest concern coming from the survey.

A significant majority (87%) said construction should have similar ministerial backing to the UK agriculture sector, which has been assured it would “have the right people with the right skills” post-Brexit.

Skilled tradespeople were seen as the biggest priority category of workers, with 88% of respondents saying skilled workers should have the right to free movement. Architects and engineers came a close second backed by 82%, followed by project managers and QSs at 68%. Perhaps surprisingly, given well-publicised labour shortages in the sector, only 11% said site labourers should have free movement.

Responding to Building’s survey, Simon Rawlinson, head of insight at consultant Arcadis, said: “The implications for the industry of a poorly-designed transition could be significant - with scarce labour resources and perhaps higher costs crimping both demand for construction and the ability to deliver.”