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UK construction sector risks losing 176,500 workers from EU countries, RICS warns

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Britain’s construction sector risks losing 176,500 workers from EU countries if the UK loses access to the European single market.  

According to the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), the UK’s construction industry relies heavily on workers from European Union countries – they account for about 8 percent of the industry’s workforce.

There is growing uncertainty regarding the future status of EU workers in Britain under the country’s new immigration system, details of which remain unclear.

RICS has cautioned that “for Brexit to succeed, it is essential to secure continued access to the EU Single Market or to put alternative plans in place to safeguard the future of the property and construction sectors in the UK.”

However, Prime Minister Theresa May has opted for a hard Brexit, prioritising controls on immigration over continued membership of the EU single market. In addition, the rights of EU citizens living in the UK have not been guaranteed by the government either as it prepares for two years of negotiating withdrawal from the political union.

Losing these workers threatens threatens £500 billion infrastructure pipeline, RICS warns.

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The UK’s construction sector faces a skills crisis

In a survey carried out by RICS of construction professionals, 30% of respondents said hiring non-UK workers was “important to the success of their businesses.”

RICS has urged the government to prioritise giving visas to construction workers as it does for other professions.

“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 £500 billion infrastructure pipeline to a standstill,” said Jeremy Blackburn, RICS Head of UK Policy.

“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. We have said before that this is a potential stumbling block for the Government, which is working to deliver both its Housing White Paper and Industrial Strategy,” he added.

“A simple first step would be to ensure that construction professions, such as quantity surveyors, feature on the ‘UK Shortage Occupations List’. Ballet dancers won’t improve our infrastructure or solve the housing crisis, yet their skills are currently viewed as essential, whereas construction professionals are not.”

Government working to create a more skilled UK workforce

The UK government is committing an extra £500m a year to improve technical skills training, an effort to offset the lack of EU workers ahead of Brexit.

The new plan, labeled as one of the biggest overhauls of post-16 education since the introduction of A-levels 70 years ago, will increase the training available for 16- to 19-year-olds on technical programmes to over 900 hour per year and provide maintenance loans to students in further education or at a technical college.

Carolyn Fairbairn, the CBI director general, said: “There has never been a more important time to address the UK’s skills shortages. Investment in skills by employers and the government, working together in partnership, is the key to giving young people the opportunities they need to succeed.”