Construction News

Mon October 14 2019

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Remainer minister pushes for construction worker exemptions

22 Feb The Construction Leadership Council (CLC), sponsored by the government’s Department of Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, is pressing the Home Office to relax the immigration rules for foreign construction workers after Brexit.

Construction minister Richard Harrington is firmly against a No Deal Brexit
Construction minister Richard Harrington is firmly against a No Deal Brexit

The CLC is co-chaired by BEIS junior minister Richard Harrington, a Remainer reported to be more sympathetic to the newly formed Independent Group of MPs than the ultras within his own party. The CLC says the government must review the proposed future migration system to avoid dramatic labour shortage in the construction sector.

Mr Harrington’s council wants the required qualification level for a skilled worker reduced to NVQ Level 2 to reflect the industry skilled status. And it wants the salary threshold for a skilled worker to be set at the median level, which is significantly below the £30,000 currently proposed.

The Construction Leadership Council (CLC) has today published a contingency planning report which outlines a series of recommendations concerning labour and skills for companies in the sector in the event of a ‘No Deal’ Brexit. 

The recommendations hwere put together by the CLC skills workstream, led by Mace chief executive Mark Reynolds. 

Key recommendations include companies ensuring that its non-British EU employees know about how to secure ‘settled’ or ‘pre-settled status’ in the UK. Expect to see immigration information centres being see up at some major UK construction sites. 

Mark Reynolds said: “With the UK’s construction sector already facing a significant shortage of skills and labour, construction firms must act now to minimise any potential disruption in the event of a No Deal Brexit.  The construction sector needs to work together to ensure that our 165,000 EU employees are supported in securing their right to work here after Brexit.   

“We’re also sending out a strong message to the government to work closely with the CLC to overcome the challenges we as a sector will face so that we can deliver on the infrastructure improvements and homes that have been promised across the country.”

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He added: “We are calling on Home Office ministers to meet with us to discuss our report and the changes that our sector needs to avoid significant disruption.”

It is not clear whether Richard Harrington would be at that meeting and on which side of the table he would sit.

The CLC was set up in 2013 "to work between industry and government to identify and deliver actions supporting UK construction in building greater efficiency, skills and growth". At the time the government said: "The council draws together a number of senior business people from across the construction supply chain. They provide leadership to help transform the UK construction industry and position it as a driver of productivity across the economy. The role of the council is to identify and deliver priority actions to help achieve this transformation."

Recommending how to make the best of a bad Brexit is clearly within the CLC's remit, therefore. However, the council appears to have drifted somewhat from advising government to lobbying it – a nice but potentially troublesome distinction, so long as ministers remain in its chair. 

The Building Engineering Services Association (BESA) has added its support to the CLC. “There is a fundamental misunderstanding in Whitehall about what constitutes a skilled worker in construction-related trades,” said director of BESA Training Tony Howard, a member of Mark Reynolds's skills workstream panel.

“Many of the people labelled as ‘low skilled’ by the prime minister recently actually bring essential craft skills to our critical construction and infrastructure projects. At the moment, government Brexit policy risks excluding Level 2 tradespeople like plumbers, bricklayers and carpenters. Losing thousands of those could be catastrophic and put the delivery of many UK projects at risk," Mr Howard said. “We recognise the need for the industry to keep developing its own long-term training and recruitment strategies to replenish the ‘home grown’ pool of skilled labour, but we also have urgent short-term needs that could be seriously undermined without access to EU migrant workers."

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