24th March Journal Column

 By Catriona Lingwood, Chief Executive of Constructing Excellence in the North East

With Article 50 set to be triggered next Wednesday (29 March) and the impact of Brexit fast approaching, it’s time to stop panicking and start thinking about what we need/can do in the months ahead to make the process as pain free as possible.

Building.co.uk launched its Building a Better Brexit campaign in January- a campaign to secure terms in Brexit negotiations that will safeguard a sector that contributes around 6.5% of Gross Domestic Profit, and provide a policy environment that enables the growth needed to deliver the infrastructure and housing the UK needs. The campaign’s specific focus is on the needs of the industry under a Brexit deal, and its vital role in the post-Brexit economy.

We got a sneak peek into the possible economic consequences of Brexit in the Spring Budget earlier this month when the chancellor was forced to downgrade his growth forecasts from 2018. The UK economy is now expected to grow at a slower rate than before the EU referendum and it will continue throughout, and after, the withdrawal process. From a survey carried out by Building.co.uk, which questioned more than 2,000 of its readers, we know that most industry workers are concerned about the impact of Brexit on costs, resources and the ability to deliver the housing and infrastructure we desperately need.

The same survey found that the majority of those asked think that the job of ensuring Brexit works for construction is not just the responsibility of the government – the industry and the government must work together. Last month’s Modern Industrial Strategy green paper stated that the government would only work with those sectors that were willing to help themselves – so we all must be willing to work together and make this work. This case was powerfully made by Mark Farmer’s report, Modernise or Die, last October. He called for a reform to address the skills crisis, pointing out that 700,000 new workers will be needed in five years to replace those retiring. His report also mentioned the lack of training in construction, I’m not saying that more skilled workers and better training would solve all our problems, but it’s definitely a good place to start.

Our industry and the government need to work together to create the conditions under Brexit in which construction can continue to operate, which is where the Construction Leadership Council (CLC) comes in. The CLC was set up in 2013 and although it wasn’t originally set up to focus on Brexit, it was established to improve performance of the industry and oversee the government’s industrial strategy. The role of the CLC is to be the bridge between government and the industry, helping to drive the change we need, and right now it’s exactly what we need to ensure the government and industry work together to ensure we thrive post-Brexit.

The Construction Industry Council and Partners are holding the North East’s Construction Summit on Tuesday 11 May, where the new Modern Industrial Strategy will be discussed in more detail. Guest speakers include; Don Ward of Constructing Excellence, Dale Sinclair of Aecom on behalf of the Royal Institute of British Architects, Dr Stephen Hamil of NBS, and a representative from The North East Local Enterprise Partnership, with more to be announced in the coming weeks. For more information on the summit, contact Leanne McAngus on 0191 500 7880 or email leanne@cene.org.uk.