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Does the government’s construction sector deal go far enough?

As part of the Industrial Strategy, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy today released details of a Sector Deal for the construction industry.

 This deal will get the construction sector working with government to produce a Construction Skills Strategy “aimed at retaining and retraining a workforce that is fit for the future and able to deliver on the government’s infrastructure and housing ambitions”. It promises a reformed Construction Industry Training Board, a co-ordinated approach to maximising the benefits of the Apprenticeship Levy and boosting the number of construction apprentices, as well as measures to make construction careers more attractive and accessible.

This will be a shot in the arm for the construction sector. Business welcomes the proposals and will go full throttle to work with government to ensure this has the impact the sector needs. The UK as a whole needs to recruit more than 400,000 construction workers each year. With the London Plan having just been released for consultation today, access to the skills this sector needs will be vital for the capital to deliver on the Mayor’s target of 66,000 homes a year.

Our Skills Commission has just completed a large number of interviews with construction industry leaders as part of its consultation process, and will be holding workshops in January looking into the issues affecting this and other sectors, from the apprenticeship levy to the impacts of automation. We look forward to discussing these findings with the Skills Minister soon after.

It will take time to work up the proposals outlined in the Sector Deal into a package of actions that will make a difference over the long run, however. And while investment in skills is critical, it alone will not meet construction’s workforce needs. If the UK is to deliver on its ambitious home-building targets, and build much-needed new infrastructure, like Crossrail 2 and a third runway at Heathrow, we must stay open to overseas workers at the same time. Our Facing Facts report found that of the 300,000 people currently employed in construction in London, 30% are from the EU, highlighting the threat that Brexit poses.

This starts with guaranteeing the rights of EU nationals that are already contributing to London and the UK’s growth. Unless the Government unilaterally guarantees the rights of EU citizens without detail, it risks shutting the door on its own ambitions for an Industrial Strategy.

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