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Tory manifesto sparks skills concern

Theresa May

The Conservative Party has published its manifesto, sparking concerns that engineering firms could be financially hit for employing workers from overseas.

In its manifesto, the party said it will double the Immigration Skills Charge levied on firms employing migrant workers to £2,000 per year. The generated revenue would be ploughed back into higher level skills training for workers in the UK.

Pledges to introduce controls on EU immigration, and to secure the rights of EU nationals in the UK and Britons in the EU, are included in the manifesto. However, students would remain part of the immigration reduction target.

Institution of Civil Engineers director general Nick Baveystock said: “The UK has world leading engineering capability. This capability will underpin our ability to deliver the infrastructure investment and modern industrial strategy that the Conservative manifesto rightly puts at the heart of its economic plans. It is also an export success story, with high value UK engineering services in demand around the globe.

”This capability has been built on attracting the brightest and the best from the UK and around the world into the industry. We risk shooting ourselves in the foot if we put up unnecessary barriers.

“Failure to guarantee the rights of the existing EU workforce risks removing 1 in 10 people from the infrastructure workforce. A charge of £2K per skilled worker from outside the EEA looks like an own goal, at a time when companies are gearing up to deliver billions of pounds of work crucial to our future prosperity.”

He added: “Keeping students within the immigration target risks undermining the viability of some of our world-class university engineering departments and making it more difficult to produce the skills we need. UK civil engineering recognises its obligations to grow domestic skills but this takes time and will not change the fact that we are a highly specialised, global profession that depends on a workforce that needs to be able to move between projects and countries.”

Elsewhere in the manifesto, there was good news for British firms looking to win overseas contracts, as it said the government would take a more active role in supporting their efforts to win contracts.

The Conservative Party manifesto, which was launched today, includes pledges to look at the way regulation of utilities and transport infrastructure can be improved.

It said that the wrong regulatory frameworks can “over-reward” investors for the risk in backing a project, which then means users become “systematically overcharged” – which could mean tighter regulation in areas such as rail.

“We recognise the need to ensure a good deal for customers. At the same time any plan to improve the regulation of utilities and transport infrastructure must not reduce investment at a time that many of these assets are coping with capacity challenges. CECA believes the next Government should focus on efficiencies and up-front investment to avoid larger bills for consumers further down the line,” said the Civil Engineering Contractors Association (CECA) in response.

The manifesto outlined a £23bn National Productivity Investment Fund, which would include £740M of digital infrastructure investment, what the Tories claim is the largest investment in railways since Victorian times, as well as £1.1bn to improve local transport and £250M in skills by the end of 2020. Backing was given to the big infrastructure projects such as HS2 and Heathrow. It also gave support to off shore wind farms in Scotland, though came out against on shore wind farms.

However, there was no mention of Crossrail 2 or Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon.

CECA director of external affairs Marie-Claude Hemming said: “CECA is particularly pleased that the Conservative manifesto includes a commitment to existing strategic investments such as High Speed 2, Northern Powerhouse Rail, and expanding Heathrow Airport.

“We also applaud the Conservatives’ support for remote onshore wind projects in Scotland – a policy CECA highlighted as a priority in our recommendations to the next UK Government.2

“At the same time, we believe there is scope for the Prime Minister to do more to provide clarity on major projects that are not named in the manifesto, such as Crossrail 2, the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon, and new nuclear power stations.”


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