Leading industry figures have stressed that now the “phoney war period” of Brexit is over, there must be a focus on the UK’s infrastructure pipeline during the coming negotiations.
Prime minister Theresa May triggered Article 50 yesterday (Wednesday 29 March), starting two years of negotiations on Britain’s exit from the European Union (EU).
Civil Engineering Contractors Association (CECA) chief executive Alasdair Reisner told New Civil Engineer that now the “phoney war period” is over, infrastructure issues affected by Brexit will become clearer.
“I think the government has been interested is getting some early indicators from industry as to its “red flag” issues, the things that will really very quickly become a problem in the event of the departure from the EU if they’re not managed,” he said.
Reisner added that retaining the right skills for the workforce is crucial, as around 8% of the UK’s construction workforce is made up of EU nationals.
“As for us, we’ve been quite strong on the skills issue, as I think will be the case for many people in the infrastructure sector,” he said.
But industry should look to solve its own problems rather than rely on the government during Brexit negotiations, said ICE director general Nick Baveystock.
“Brexit is coming: for years we have heard a mantra of ‘government must’ rather than ‘industry solve’; this might now be about to change,” he said.
“Our sector must work with the government to take practical steps now to ensure UK infrastructure and construction remains globally competitive.”
Market confidence must be maintained by progressing the UK’s big infrastructure projects, said Aecom UK & Ireland chief executive Patrick Flaherty.
“The delivery of large-scale domestic schemes such as High Speed 2, Crossrail 2, a third runway at Heathrow and the Northern Powerhouse programme are critical to the country’s ability to compete on a global stage,” he said, adding that free movement of labour will be crucial for construction.
“For us and for many global businesses with UK operations, guaranteeing the movement of people across borders will be essential for the delivery of large-scale and complex infrastructure projects.”