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Warning of Hard Brexit impact on construction sector

Warning of Hard Brexit impact on construction sector

The UK construction sector could lose almost 200,000 workers if the country pulls out of the single market as a result of Brexit.

Some 8 per cent of UK construction workers (176,500) are from the European Union, and their departure could threaten the country’s biggest infrastructure and construction projects, according to the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS).

With the UK already dealing with a construction skills shortage, RICS has called for the industry’s professions to be added to the UK Shortage Occupations List and given priority during the visa application process.

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The industry body has revealed 30 per cent of construction professionals surveyed said that hiring non-UK workers was important to the success of their businesses.

RICS head of UK policy Jeremy Blackburn said: “These figures reveal that the UK construction industry is currently dependent on thousands of EU workers. It is in all our interests that we make a success of Brexit, but a loss of access to the single market has the potential to slowly bring the UK’s £500bn infrastructure pipeline to a standstill. 

“That means that unless access to the single market is secured or alternative plans are put in place, we won’t be able to create the infrastructure needed to enable our cities to compete on a global stage.”

RICS is proposing a number of measures to secure a Brexit deal that supports construction, including attracting private investment, agreeing on the passporting of professional services and developing the next generation of home-grown talent.

Mike Richards, director at Mortgage Concepts Associates, said he would like to see access to the single market and “sensible passporting rules”.

“We are struggling with building in any case at the moment. Whether it is buying or renting, the last thing we want is the housing market to drop,” he added.

“If it all falls apart, it could make it much more difficult because a lot of our labour force is eastern European.

Mr Richards added that novel solutions such as prefabricated homes could help to support the market in the event of a hard Brexit.

“Legal and General are looking at providing pre-built houses that you can just slot together, and I think others will do that soon. Student accommodation is being looked at on the basis of pods, and I think that could be the way things go.

“I think it does make a big difference and will help a certain sector of the housing market.”

simon.allin@ft.com