Builders call for relaxation of immigration laws to counter Brexit-driven skills deficit

Brian Berry

Almost half the Federation of Master Builders membership is in favour of relaxing immigration laws to counter a skills deficit in the industry.

Labour supply was badly impacted by Brexit which saw many highly-skilled European builders return to the continent.

The latest State of Trade Survey from the FMB reveals that 48% of members are in favour of the Government introducing plans to attract more skilled labour from abroad to help address the chronic skills gap in construction – 21% opposed changing immigration rules, and 27% neither supported nor opposed them.

With the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) reporting the need for 53,000 additional workers a year to meet construction demand, the FMB is calling for all options to be considered to get Britain building.

The FMB survey data also stressed support for any immigration measures to be underpinned by investment in UK-based skills training.

The survey also reveals a fall in workload and employment and a significant drop in enquiries for future work. Small house builders have been particularly badly hit, with a dramatic decline in workloads and enquiries.

As cost-of-living pressures continue to bite, this new data foreshadows a tricky economic climate in 2023 that the Government has an opportunity to address at the Spring Budget, said the FMB.

Brian Berry, FMB chief executive, said: “The growing skills gap in the construction sector is a ticking time bomb that the Government can’t afford to ignore.

“Whether that’s looking again at targeted immigration measures, supported by half of builders in the latest FMB State of Trade Survey, or using the Spring Budget to bring forward a comprehensive skills strategy to roadmap how we fill the gaps and train at scale, it’s time to act.”

He added: “This quarter’s FMB State of Trade data shows some potentially worrying signs for every part of the construction sector with workloads and enquiries down significantly.

“Ambitious plans are needed to get small, local builders motoring. A first step is the need to unblock the planning system to get more homes built.

“There is also an urgent need to invest in greening our homes, with a long term plan towards retrofitting the existing housing stock. This move would give construction businesses the certainty they need to invest.”