Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron outlines his vision for a better Brexit
This election will test the commitment of the parties to the construction industry. In the face of rising costs, a huge and worsening skills shortage, uncertainty over EU labour and faltering growth, the challenges are not small – but the outcomes of both this election and Brexit negotiations are not inevitable. On 8 June, you have a choice over what kind of Britain you want to see. Liberal Democrats want to see a country where people have the homes, jobs, health services and education they need.
The construction industry is crucial to achieving this vision, yet even before Brexit, Conservative policy has repeatedly underachieved on delivering measures which will help the industry thrive. Since the vote last June, Theresa May’s determination to pursue an unnecessarily Farage-like Brexit is cause for even greater concern, while Jeremy Corbyn has essentially waved through a hard Brexit by voting with her.
The truth is that nobody knows what Brexit will look like yet. Many of Building’s concerns (free movement of skilled workers, mutual recognition of professional qualifications, the frictionless movement of products) rely on a government which seeks the best deal for Britain rather than the best for a political party. A blunt, Conservative, hard Brexit, cutting all access to EU workers, would damage the construction industry, causing it to shrink by 9%.
This is not a foregone conclusion. Liberal Democrats believe that you should have the choice over what kind of Brexit – what kind of future – you really want. And that includes the chance to reject a bad Brexit deal. That is why we will give you a vote on the final deal with the option of staying in the UK.
We entirely agree with Building’s call to confirm the rights of skilled EU construction professionals. We will guarantee the rights of EU nationals already in the UK, and keep membership of the single market so we have the workers we need. This is not only vital for maintaining output and avoiding increased costs, complexity and delays, it is entirely possible. Theresa May’s Brexit simply adds angst to an uncertain time and achieves nothing.
Building is also right to call for a commitment to greater spending on construction of public projects across a range of area, not least housing. It’s obvious that the government’s current measures fall woefully short of the action we need to alleviate a national emergency in housing supply.
The Liberal Democrats understand both the scale of the problem and the suite of measures needed to tackle it. We will aim to build 300,000 homes a year by the end of the parliament. To do this, we will set up a new government-backed Housing and Infrastructure Development Bank to provide long-term capital and attract private sector finance – that’s £3bn of public finance just to start. We will build at least 10 new Garden Cities, lift the borrowing cap on councils and increasing the borrowing capacity of housing associations.
We will also expand direct commissioning where there is a gap left by the market – including building on public sector land, garden villages and towns, and remediation of brownfield sites, with the government benefiting from land value uplift to invest in the infrastructure needed.
We will restore zero carbon homes regulations to make all new homes energy efficient and will develop the skilled workforce needed to support this growth by expanding apprenticeships and creating specific national skills strategies for key areas.
Both Conservatives and Labour have repeatedly shown a lack of ambition for construction. The Liberal Democrats are committed to building a better Britain through a thriving construction industry and will fight to stop a devastating Brexit deal.
Tim Farron, Liberal Democrats
Building asked all three main parties to set out their commitments to the construction industry in an open letter as part of our Building a Better Brexit campaign. The Conservatives declined to take up the invitation.
Contact your candidate
The letter summarises construction’s importance to the UK economy and calls on election candidates to consider the key demands in the Building a Better Brexit manifesto.
A list of the candidates is available from the official political parties’ websites, along with contact details. Feel free to add local examples of important construction projects or related issues – we would also be interested to hear about these local stories, so please email us firstname.lastname@example.org.