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Brink of Brexit: Industry needs clarity on labour issue

An industry executive told me a tale last week about the number of languages spoken on one of his London sites. 

Apparently, he spotted a board with the words ‘good morning’ on it, translated into 13 different languages.

This is likely to be a familiar story to those working on construction sites, particularly in the capital.

It brings into sharp focus the challenges firms will face if Brexit ends up meaning that swathes of EU workers are unable to stay in the UK.

As the government prepares to trigger Article 50 tomorrow, the concerns on this issue are very real.

The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors warned this month that the delivery of major infrastructure projects could be threatened, as the industry could lose around 175,000 workers – nearly a tenth of its workforce.

Meanwhile Balfour Beatty last month flagged that a shortage of labour could eventually drive up the cost of building projects.

Unfortunately, the government has been unable to offer any firm reassurance on how EU workers will be treated once the UK disentangles itself from Brussels. 

Brexit secretary David Davis offered some encouragement last night when he said a “sustainable” immigration system would take into account the needs of the NHS and businesses.

Mr Davis suggested the UK’s migration policy would be set depending on the needs of the economy.

To me, however, this sounds like a red tape nightmare waiting to happen.

Either way, with the trigger about to be pulled on our EU exit, the industry will be hoping the government is able to secure a sensible deal on the free movement of labour. 

Former prime minister David Cameron branded Brexit a “leap into the unknown”.

For the sake of the industry, and the country, let’s hope Mr Davis and his team can navigate a sensible path.

Got 5 minutes?

Speaking of exits, Bouygues will no longer deliver the full £1bn phase three of Battersea Power Station’s redevelopment.

Got longer?

Shocking stats: ONS data on suicides in construction sheds light on why action must be taken to address the number of suicides in our industry.

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