The Conservative Party manifesto for the 2017 general election contains little newsworthy or alarming that is specific to the construction industry – the commitment to the contents of the recent housing white paper remain, for example, as do the T-level reforms of technical education. The subject of immigration is an exception, however.
By leaving the European Union, the UK takes back control of its borders, it is said, and therefore it will be able to reduce the numbers coming into the country.
For the UK construction industry, perhaps the biggest question that remains totally up in the air is what access will it continue have to an international labour pool.
The Conservative manifesto puts no numbers or timetable on its immigration targets but sets out an aspiration to reduce net migration from hundreds of thousands a year to tens of thousands.
The Conservative manifesto states: “It is our objective to reduce immigration to sustainable levels, by which we mean annual net migration in the tens of thousands, rather than the hundreds of thousands we have seen over the last two decades. We will, therefore, continue to bear down on immigration from outside the European Union.
“Leaving the European Union means, for the first time in decades, that we will be able to control immigration from the European Union too. We will therefore establish an immigration policy that allows us to reduce and control the number of people who come to Britain from the European Union, while still allowing us to attract the skilled workers our economy needs.
“We will therefore ask the independent Migration Advisory Committee to make recommendations to the government about how the visa system can become better aligned with our modern industrial strategy. We envisage that the committee’s advice will allow us to set aside significant numbers of visas for workers in strategically-important sectors, such as digital technology, without adding to net migration as a whole.
“However, skilled immigration should not be a way for government or business to avoid their obligations to improve the skills of the British workforce. So we will double the Immigration Skills Charge levied on companies employing migrant workers, to £2,000 a year by the end of the parliament, using the revenue generated to invest in higher level skills training for workers in the UK.”
The Confederation of British Industries called the Conservatives’ immigration policy ‘blunt’ and said it was the ‘Achilles heel’ of the party’s manifesto.
Labour’s manifesto is less specific on the subject but does crucially guarantee protection to all immigrants already here so long as they have a job. It states: “Working together we will institute a new system which is based on our economic needs, balancing controls and existing entitlements. This may include employer sponsorship, work permits, visa regulations or a tailored mix of all these which works for the many, not the few. Labour will protect those already working here, whatever their ethnicity.”
The Labour manifesto also includes a commitment to raise the quality of building work.
“Labour will not only build more, we will build better,” its manifesto states. “We will insulate more homes to help people manage the cost of energy bills, to reduce preventable winter deaths, and to meet our climate change targets. We will consult on new rules on minimum space standards to prevent ‘rabbit hutch’ properties and on new modern standards for building ‘zero carbon homes’.
The Liberal Democrats say that they will “continue to allow high-skilled immigration to support key sectors of our economy” and “hold an annual debate in parliament on skill and labour market shortfalls and surpluses to identify the migration necessary to meet the UK’s needs”.
The Liberal Democrat manifesto does not mention construction.