By Jeremy Blackburn, RICS Head of UK Policy
The triggering of Article 50 has today set Britain on a course to exit the European Union. It is essential now that Government and industry work together to get the best deal possible and ensure our country’s future growth and prosperity. It is everyone’s responsibility to make Brexit work.
Britain must retain its front line position on the international stage. Delivering the airport hubs, high-speed rail networks and energy systems needed to make our cities and industrial hubs global competitors will be critical to our future success. However, it is unrealistic to expect Government to deliver a successful Brexit without the full – if sometimes constructive – support of industry.
Unless the free movement of skilled labour is secured during negotiations, we believe that the UK’s predicted £500bn infrastructure pipeline may be under threat. Our latest figures show that eight per cent of the UK’s construction workers are EU nationals, accounting for some 176,500 people. A loss of access to the European labour market has the potential to slowly bring some of the UK’s biggest infrastructure projects to a standstill.
Yet while it is the role of Government to secure the trade agreement, industry must also work to secure the domestic skills pipeline. As the industry’s professional body, we are working with Government and industry to develop that skills base, building vital initiatives, such as degree apprenticeships, in our sector to drive the talent pipeline forward. A recent RICS survey revealed worrying figures showing that almost a quarter of our construction professionals fail to recognise the benefits of apprenticeships in solving the skills crisis. It is vital that industry gets behind such schemes for Britain’s long-term good.
Earlier this week Qatar pledged to invest £5bn in British transport and construction projects. We believe that if the Government puts the right incentives in place, the UK’s energy, rail and road infrastructure will benefit from further billions of overseas investment.
But again, industry must also play its part. Currently infrastructure projects across the globe measure and forecast the costs of construction differently. So exactly the same high-speed rail project in say Spain, would have an entirely different projected cost if it were located in the UK even after accounting for currency differences or regional labour and material costs.
RICS is working with industry partners to introduce a new standardised global measurement known as International Construction Measurement Standard (ICMS) that will allow investors to compare like with like. We believe that this will help to put infrastructure firmly on the map as a global investment opportunity.
Together the Government and industry must work together to deliver a construction industry that is robust enough to withstand any future political and economic uncertainty.