A post-Brexit Future for UK Construction

February 19, 2018

Engineering plays a fundamental role in modern society, instrumental in every sector from finance, healthcare and media to more obvious use-cases in energy, transport and construction. Sustainable and resilient infrastructure is essential for economic and social progress, for the UK, EU and the rest of the world.

Fundamental to engineering’s success is people; the UK has strong education facilities, a highly productive research base and leading engineers across all industry verticals. The UK has a globally competitive construction and engineering sector, however like many other nations is suffering from a shortage in skilled labour. Leaving the European Union provides an opportunity for the UK to put in place a national industrial strategy to address the labour issue, furthermore, better understanding the gaps in essential skilled occupations that cannot be filled domestically will allow us to put in place a short-term plan to ensure the situation does not get worse. It is vital that European talent has certainty regarding opportunities to study and work in the UK, and intra-company mobility of labour is necessary to support and deliver contracts. One thing construction companies can try to do is mitigate the disruption of its labour force with technology and innovation, by for example looking for ways to reduce the number of individuals on-site.

Trade with the EU will no doubt be affected by leaving the single market, with tariffs impacting the price of imported goods and the cost of skilled labour increasing. Furthermore, the deterioration of our relationship with the European Investment Bank will undoubtedly result in tougher tendering opportunities and there will be a need for alternative sources of low cost finance. European funding streams, collaboration frameworks and research programmes give rise to innovation for UK businesses and support international mobility and collaboration - if no longer available, they will need to be replaced.

The UK has been a leading member on shaping legislation and standards of the EU single market, the UK engineering industry has invested in standards that will help non-tariff aspects of negotiations. Leaving the EU, the UK will need to decide how closely its standards will align with that of the EU, it is unlikely that the standards will vary much at all, as this would potentially mean global businesses deciding between complying with either UK or EU rules, discouraging trade and investment. It is also vital that the UK invests in ensuring environmental protection and health and safety standards are maintained at the highest international standard.

Not only for the construction and engineering sectors but for the UK’s future as a global leader in international trade, it is vital that investor confidence is maintained. The cost of doing business must remain competitive to continue to attract high levels of foreign direct investment, and resulting trade terms and funding support mechanisms will be key. The UK now more than ever will need to ensure that national strategy and framework is in place and aligned to ensure industry and innovation are progressing to their potential.

Carlos Carvalho

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