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More than 175,000 EU workers could be lost from the construction workforce when the UK leaves the EU,
16/03/2017

More than 175,000 EU workers could be lost from the construction workforce when the UK leaves the EU, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors has warned. 

The body said its analysis of official data showed that 8 per cent of the UK’s construction workforce was made up of non-UK EU nationals. It said the delivery of future construction projects could be put in jeopardy unless their futures were secured.

Parliament passed the Brexit bill earlier this week, with royal assent expected imminently and prime minister Theresa May expected to trigger Article 50 before the end of this month.

RICS said it was essential that the UK secured continued access to the single market, adding that construction professionals should be added to the UK Shortage Occupations List.

The body said a ‘hard Brexit’ – where the UK gives up access to the single market, full access to the customs union, and freedom of movement – would exacerbate the construction skills crisis in this country and put projects currently listed in the government’s infrastructure pipeline in jeopardy.

A RICS survey found that 30 per cent of construction professionals believed hiring non-UK workers was important to the success of their business.

Lord Stunnell, the man leading a review into the impact leaving the EU will have on construction, told Construction News in February that construction output could shrink by 9 per cent following a hard Brexit.

Last month the mayor’s office released findings that found almost 100,000 construction workers working in London were from the EU – a quarter of the total workforce in the industry in the capital.

The country’s largest contractor Balfour Beatty, which employs 10 per cent of its workforce from the EU, has also warned that leaving the EU could increase skills shortages and drive up costs for firms.

RICS head of policy Jeremy Blackburn said today: “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.”

One in five respondents to the RICS survey felt that apprenticeship schemes were not effective in addressing the skills gap.

Mr Blackburn said: “We must address the need to deliver a construction and property industry that is resilient to future change and can withstand the impact of any future political or economic shocks – key to that will be growing the domestic skills base.”

Unite acting general secretary Gail Cartmail said: “This survey demonstrates once again that the government’s failure to guarantee the rights of existing EU citizens is playing fast and loose with the well-being of the UK economy.

“The ongoing uncertainty over the rights of EU citizens to remain in the UK post-Brexit is already resulting in workers voting with their feet and leaving the UK.

“This will exacerbate the deepening construction skills crisis, resulting in projects being delayed or cancelled, which will severely damage the health of the industry.”