Immigration Bill is priority for construction, says FMB
The Government’s Immigration Bill must ensure that British business has access to sufficient levels of EU workers or major construction projects will grind to a halt, Brian Berry, Chief Executive of the Federation of Master Builders (FMB) has said in response to the Queen’s Speech.
In terms of today’s Queen’s Speech and the focus of British business, all eyes are on the Immigration Bill. As suspected, we now know that the Bill will end the free movement of people but that begs the question: what will replace it? The Government has not set out what our post-Brexit immigration system will look like but it is crucial that key strategic industries, such as construction, are able to draw upon sufficient numbers of EU workers. EU tradespeople have come to play a crucial part in plugging the industry’s chronic skills gap and if the ability to employ non-UK workers is curtailed, the Government’s housing and infrastructure plans will be no more than a pipe dream.
Already, we’re starting to see a dramatic drop off in immigration from the kinds of countries that have typically supplied the construction sector with skilled talent. Statistics released today by Oxford University's Migration Observatory show a 35% fall in the number of national insurance numbers being issued to nationals from the ‘EU8’ countries that joined the EU in 2004. A lack of certainty over what rights EU citizens will have in the country post-Brexit will undoubtedly be a factor behind this decline. Given the ongoing need to recruit from abroad, we need a clear message from the Government that non-UK skilled workers are welcome now, and will be welcome come what May.
The sector stands ready to work with MPs to shape the Immigration Bill into something that serves the economy and provides vital human resource to British business. The construction industry is also ready to significantly upscale the training and recruitment of UK construction workers so we welcome the recommitment to a proper industrial strategy and high skilled learning. In the longer term, being able to train more of our own workforce is without question part of the solution to our enduring skills deficit. Nevertheless, the Government must be pragmatic and introduce an immigration flexible system that allows skilled EU nationals to work in the UK with relative ease.