The construction industry has warned prime minister Theresa May against putting up barriers to the expertise Britain needs to deliver major projects following the launch of the Conservatives’ manifesto earlier today.
The Institution of Civil Engineer’s director-general Nick Baveystock said the PM was in danger of scoring an “own goal” by raising the cost of employing skilled workers from outside the European Economic Area from the current £1,000 a year to £2,000.
Mr Baveystock said: “We risk shooting ourselves in the foot if we put up unnecessary barriers.
“Failure to guarantee the rights of the existing EU workforce risks removing one in 10 people from the infrastructure workforce.
“A charge of £2,000 per skilled worker from outside the EEA looks like an own goal, at a time when companies are gearing up to deliver billions of pounds of work crucial to our future prosperity.”
Mr Baveystock’s comments were backed by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), which called Mrs May’s immigration plans the “achilles heel” of its manifesto.
CBI director-general Carolyn Fairbairn said: “In a global race for talent and innovation UK firms risk being left in the starting blocks because of a blunt approach to immigration.”
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan echoed the industry’s reaction: “These Tory immigration policies are totally unworkable and will cause huge damage to London’s economy. This is yet another anti-London policy from the most anti-London government since Margaret Thatcher.
“Reducing net migration to the tens of thousands would make all Londoners poorer, cause huge damage to our public services like the NHS and schools, and make it impossible for us to build the affordable homes we need.”
Civil Engineering Contractors Association director of external affairs Marie-Claude Hemming urged the PM to guarantee the infrastructure pipeline: “Should she remain in Number 10, Theresa May must ensure there is no major change to the anticipated pipeline of work which could unsettle the markets or deter investors.
“CECA is particularly pleased that the Conservative manifesto includes a commitment to existing strategic investments such as High Speed 2, Northern Powerhouse Rail and expanding Heathrow Airport.
“We also applaud the Conservatives’ support for remote onshore wind projects in Scotland – a policy CECA highlighted as a priority in our recommendations to the next UK government.
“At the same time, we believe there is scope for the prime minister to do more to provide clarity on major projects that are not named in the manifesto, such as Crossrail 2, the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon and new nuclear power stations.”
The 30,000-word Conservative manifesto – the second longest by the party since 1979 – failed to back a number of projects previously committed to by the former PM David Cameron.
It did, however, give explicit backing to shale gas extraction (known as fracking) and the setup of a sovereign wealth fund to pay for future infrastructure.
The UK’s largest construction union Unite said it was concerned by the lack of inclusion of Crossrail 2 in the manifesto.
A spokesperson said: “The failure of the Conservatives to commit to building Crossrail 2 is alarming. While they promise to invest in the nation’s infrastructure, when you look below the surface these assurances are without substance.”
“Without long-term infrastructure projects in the pipeline the construction industry will be hit by greater instability, which is bad news for workers and employers.”
Robert Meakin, partner at law firm Clyde & Co, said the manifesto had avoided making grand statements favoured by Mrs May’s predecessor.
“On economic infrastructure, the manifesto reiterates the ongoing investment programmes for road and rail, and recycles last year’s announcement of the National Productivity Investment Fund,” he said.
“In that sense, it continues to eschew the statements of grand ambition favoured by the last administration.”
Manifesto housing measures welcomed
The Conservatives’ housing measures to build half a million extra homes by 2022 – on top of its previous commitment to deliver a million by 2020 – was welcomed by the Federation of Master Builder’s director of external affairs Sarah McMonagle, who said the manifesto recognised the “scale of the challenge”.
Ms McMonagle said: “A revised housebuilding target of 1.5m homes from 2015 to 2022 ups the ante on housing delivery again, but these ambitions can only be delivered with an accompanying focus on creating a more diverse and innovative housebuilding sector.
“The decline in the number and output of smaller local housebuilders over the past few decades has led to the industry’s capacity haemorrhaging. To deliver the PM’s vision we will need to reverse this.
“The manifesto’s explicit pledge to diversify the delivery of new homes is therefore extremely welcome. Key to doing this will be being able to build on some of the sensible reforms outlined in the recent housing white paper, which we hope to see implemented.”
Chartered Institute of Housing chief executive Terrie Alafat also welcomed the pledge to build more homes and spur on local authorities to build more homes: “It’s encouraging to see the Conservatives commit to help councils build more homes, including through capital funding. The pledge to help housing associations build more homes is also welcome.
“All three major parties have now rightly recognised that we need an ambitious long-term plan to get to grips with our national housing crisis.
“We know we need to build at least 250,000 homes a year in England to meet demand, so it’s very positive to see commitments to increase housebuilding in all of the major parties’ manifestos.”
Tory manifesto: PM warned not to price out foreign labour