Mike Leonard, CEO of Building Alliance, discusses the construction industry in a post-Brexit landscape
As we emerge from Brexit, Great Britain and Northern Ireland have a unique opportunity to build for the future and in doing so, create jobs, inclusive growth, a balanced economy and a greener environment. Now is the time to invest in critical infrastructure, public and commercial buildings and housing to ensure our built environment supports long term economic growth, jobs and social inclusion. Every £1 invested in construction delivers a £2.84 return for the UK economy because we make it here.
Current Government and local Policy directly supports offsite construction through grants, funding criteria and rhetoric to move away from UK manufactured bricks and blocks to offsite and modular homes, where the steel and timber raw materials are almost all imported. This market interference will undermine global investment to replace and enhance our manufacturing capacity and will discount from a multiplier that could deliver a £68bn benefit to the West Midlands economy, based on the 215,000 new homes the Mayor of the West Midlands, Andy Street, plans to build by 2031.
For the industry to deliver what is required after Brexit, we must act urgently to increase the number of young people starting a career in the construction sector. The highly diverse construction and building materials sector can offer vast numbers of meaningful jobs, reducing our dependency on migrant labour and opening great career opportunities for the long term unemployed, ex-offenders and those retraining such as those leaving the armed services.
The UK Government has a key role to play in creating the economic and regulatory environment that will attract inward investment, remove barriers and create long-term sustainable growth, increasing exports and reducing imports. Housing must be a key infrastructure priority for the next Government. We must put in place the skills, capacity and infrastructure we need to deliver large numbers of high-quality homes that are built to last, securing the economic and environmental gains that are vital to re-energising our economy. The focus must be on whole life value rather than the lowest price and on the delivery of quality rather than speed.
Global Britain must act now to fully capitalise on the multiplier effect of the circular economy with over 80% of the materials used to construct new homes in England still manufactured in the UK. This creates skilled jobs in manufacturing distribution, construction and the service sector and reduces our trading deficit, minimising imports whilst we seek to increase exports. We must ensure that any future trade deals facilitate the continued inward investment to grow the UK building materials manufacturing capacity.
The UK building materials manufacturing sector is vital to the UK Industrial Strategy and can be a major contributor to reducing our trading deficit.
The construction product manufacturing sector accounts for 10% of total manufacturing and employs more than the aerospace and automotive manufacturing sectors combined.
In the short term we will need to retain our access to migrant labour, the MAC report into this issue produced recommendations incompatible with the needs of the construction industry which is, in the main, a sub-contract model. With a new team at the helm of government we will need to urgently put in place what is needed to ensure business continuity, particularly in London, in the event of a ‘No Deal Brexit’.
CEO of Building Alliance
Visiting Professor in Manufacturing and the Built Environment at Birmingham City University