Opinion: Contractors need assurances over EU workers

Grant Prior 6 years ago
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Let’s try and make life simple for construction in the wake of last week’s Brexit vote.

Does the decision mean there will be less to build and will there still be enough people to actually do the work?

The first question is one of degrees but the more immediate issue is immigrant labour.

Contractors need to know that their workforce isn’t going to disappear anytime soon.

EU workers are a fixture on sites and in offices across the country. Without them the industry would grind to a halt.

Construction companies need assurance that existing workers will be allowed to remain while any new immigration system will be able to cope with demand for both skilled and unskilled labour.

It shouldn’t be hard for the Government to make that pledge.

At a stroke it would remove a massive concern for contractors and give them certainty over future staffing levels.

Demand levels are a more complex question as economic forecasters still seem clueless over how the world will change.

The City has been totally headless since the Brexit vote as traders race to stay ahead of the pack in whichever way the wind blows the market.

In the real world of construction things are a bit calmer. Sites haven’t seized up and project plans haven’t been dumped in a panic.

At one point last week the stock of some of the country’s biggest house builders crashed 40%.

That was nothing to do with corporate efficiency or supply and demand. It was all about market panic and over reaction.

In a post-Brexit UK we are still facing a huge housing shortage.

We might see a correction in over-inflated London house prices but the demand for new homes won’t disappear overnight.

Serious worries remain about investment levels and the possible cancellation of projects on the private and public sides.

Yesterday’s decision to delay a decision on airport expansion was a spectacular own goal by the Government.

Heathrow and Gatwick are desperate to pump billions of private money into building work at a time when the country is crying out for some good news.

So the politicians decide to delay the decision because of planning fears – brilliant.

Let’s hope they show a bit more backbone as the leadership race plays out.

With interest rates at historic lows there is not much else the Government can do to stimulate the economy other than spend its way out of a wobble.

Theresa May is favourite to be the new Prime Minister and she has already pledged to end austerity measures by dumping George Osborne’s target to hit a budget surplus by 2020.

And areas like infrastructure and PRS housing are set to drink in private funding from institutions around the globe as they look for safe investments.

These are uncertain times and we need politicians to stand up and be leaders – that is what they are elected for.

The initial fears of economic meltdown as the UK pulled up the drawbridge to Europe are receding.

All sides of the debate are moving towards a pragmatic compromise.

Who knows we may end up with the ideal world of a free-trade Europe without the burden of Brussels and bureaucracy?

If that’s the case then construction and the whole country could be a winner.

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