New construction sector concern

Firms fear Brexit exodus to fill London vacancies

housebuildingBuilding workers could head south

Scottish construction companies fear that Britain’s departure from the EU will see an exodus of workers to fill a skills shortage in London.

New data reveals that only 4% of workers in the Scottish construction sector are from other EU nations, making it less dependent on the trading bloc than may be commonly believed.

However, half of construction workers in London are non-UK EU nationals and firms in Scotland are concerned they will lose staff to fill thousands of vacancies when Britain leaves the bloc.

This is a key finding in the latest Scottish Construction Monitor, a quarterly survey of the membership of the Scottish Building Federation.

Almost six in ten (57% ) of building contractors responding to the survey said they are concerned that the process of the UK leaving the European Union is likely to drive up labour costs in Scottish construction over the next five years.

Research by the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) shows that around 8% of the UK construction workforce is made up of people from other EU member states.

The corresponding figure for the Scottish construction workforce is thought to be around 4%, equivalent to around 7,300 Scottish construction workers that come from other EU member states.

By comparison, London is particularly heavily dependent on non-UK EU nationals for local construction labour with around 50% of the local construction workforce coming from other EU member states, equivalent to around 165,000 workers.

UK construction output fell by 3% in February 2018 compared to February 2017, the biggest month-on-year fall since March 2013. 

Commenting on the survey results, Scottish Building Federation managing director Vaughan Hart said: “One key impact of the Brexit process for Scottish construction employers will certainly be the availability of skills and labour from other EU member states – and related to this, future labour costs.

“With only around 4% of the workforce coming from other EU member states, the Scottish industry is less directly exposed to this impact than other regions of the UK, particularly London, where around half of the local construction workforce is made up of non-UK EU nationals.

“However, the indirect impact on labour costs within the Scottish industry could be much more considerable.

“An exodus of EU nationals from London’s construction sector could be a significant drain on the availability of labour and skills here in Scotland as more Scottish workers relocate to take advantage of job opportunities down south.

“In that context, I think our members are rightly concerned that the Brexit process could drive up labour costs for them over the next five years.

“Combined with declining industry output across the UK, it’s therefore also unsurprising that general confidence amongst employers about the future outlook for the industry remains weak.”

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