RICS says 200,000 overseas workers go move elsewhere

Building industry organisations have weighed into the row over leaked government plans to limit immigration once the UK has left the EU in 2019, warning the potential loss of 200,000 workers will cripple sites and plunge the industry into crisis.

A Home Office document leaked last week outlined a range of proposals including restricting the length of time ‘unskilled’ EU citizens could live and work in the UK to a maximum of two years.

The government has yet to outline what it regards as ‘unskilled’ labour but the building sector fears an exodus of staff and a recruitment disaster is waiting to happen.

Abdul Choudhury, RICS’ policy manager, argued the UK’s ability to attract workers was critical to the domestic construction sector, especially in the midst of the current skills shortage.

“Recent RICS data has shown that the UK could lose almost 200,000 EU workers post-Brexit should Britain lose access to the single market. The current construction skills crisis is already disrupting our existing pipeline of work, and we also face a skills cliff edge in the next few years as a high number of construction workers are set to retire.

“Though the prospect exists to draw on a more global pool of labour, we cannot afford to simply lose access to such a valuable resource without any contingency plan in place at a time of such uncertainty and stress…we are deluding ourselves to think that the current uncertainty isn’t harming our attractiveness to the workers we need and with that in mind, the government’s future plan must be adjusted to meet the UK’s needs.”

Build UK chief executive Suzannah Nichol said the construction sector shared the concerns of other industries that employed EU workers, such as agriculture and hospitality.

“While Brexit offers an opportunity to nurture home grown talent, there will continue to be a need for both EU and non-EU workers to deliver the UK’s infrastructure, homes and communities and we would strongly urge the government to recognise this and determine its policies accordingly,” she added.

Meanwhile Brian Berry, chief executive of the Federation of Master Builders (FMB), said a third of SME house builders currently employed EU workers, a figure which rises to 70% in London and the South East.

“The potential impact of post-Brexit immigration changes is therefore a cause for concern among small house builders. That’s why it’s so important that the government introduces a transitionary period that allows the UK house building sector to gradually wean itself off high levels of EU labour.”

And the Home Builders Federation said: “At a time when we are looking to increase output whilst already facing a shortage of skills, it is imperative that housebuilders are able to maintain access to foreign workers.”

The government is expected to outline details of its post-Brexit immigration strategy later this autumn.