EXCL Labour warns of post-Brexit housebuilding crisis over EU worker numbers

Posted On: 
4th April 2017

Britain's housebuilding industry is heading for a post-Brexit recruitment crisis after it emerged nearly 200,000 construction staff are from the European Union.

Nearly 200,000 workers in the housebuilding sector are EU citizens.
Credit: 
PA Images

Data uncovered by the Labour party also showed that the number of young people completing apprenticeships in construction have halved since 10 years ago.

Shadow Housing Secretary John Healey said the figures were a "wake up call" for the Government ahead of crunch negotiations on Britain leaving the EU.

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According to the Office for National Statistics' Labour Force Survey, 191,000 of the UK housebuilding industry's 2.3 million workers are from the EU. They include 60,100 Poles, 45,100 Romanians and 21,100 Irish workers.

The ending of freedom of movement after Brexit means it is unclear how easy it will be for housing firms to rely on that labour.

At the same time, the number of completed apprenticeships in the construction sector has plummeted from 17,080 in 2007/08 to just 8,470 in 2014/15, according to the Government's own figures.

Mr Healey said: "This is a wake-up call for ministers and building industry bosses. Not enough has been done to train up young Brits who want to work in the building trade and the risk now is that Brexit will leave us without the skilled workforce to build the homes that the country desperately needs.

"Ministers need to get a grip fast. They should urgently conduct and publish an assessment of the Brexit risks to the building industry before proper negotiations start, and in the meantime focus their efforts on funding the training of young Brits to do these vital jobs."

Communities Secretary Sajid Javid suggested last October that European construction workers could be given special treatment after Brexit to make sure the Government can meet its ambitions of building a million new homes by 2020.

He he did not know "what the future might look like in terms of work visas and foreign workers".

But the minister added: "Wherever we end up, the Government is determined to get a good deal for Britain. Whether it’s construction or any other sector, we don’t want to make it any more difficult for those industries than it is."

A spokeswoman for the Department for Exiting the EU said: "As we leave the EU, we will build a stronger, fairer and more global Britain. Through our industrial strategy, increased investment in infrastructure and our new offer on skills and technical education, we will stimulate long-term growth in the construction sector and improve the quality of people’s lives across the UK.  

"European nationals make a vital contribution to the economy, which is why we want to secure the status of EU citizens who are already living in Britain, and the status of British nationals living in other member states, as early as we can."

Eddie Tuttle, Associate Director for Policy, Research & Public Affairs at the Chartered Institute of Building said the figures “should not come as a surprise”:

“CIOB’s research into migration shows that construction firms are attracted to draw more heavily on migrant workers to fill immediate labour shortages, but the most effective way to reduce this reliance is to invest heavily, over a period of time, in training, mentoring and developing young UK citizens. But with only two years to negotiate a comprehensive exit agreement with the EU, the Government must provide clarity over freedom of movement and access to skills.” 

Andrew Dixon, ‎Head of Policy at the Federation of Master Builders, commented:  ““In the short term, cutting off the access construction firms have to EU tradespeople could be problematic, particularly in London and the South East, where there is significant reliance on non-UK workers. We have quite severe skills shortages in a number of key trades and the reality is that in the medium-term we will continue to need skilled labour coming into the country if we are to plug these gaps in the workforce. The industry is still unsure as to where construction workers will figure in the Government’s future immigration policy and there is a concern from an SME’s perspective that access to skilled foreign labour will become only possible for those firms who are able to navigate a challenging bureaucratic process.”