Dezeen Magazine

Brexit could trigger skills crisis in architecture and construction says RIBA

Brexit: the Royal Institute of British Architects has written to the UK's Brexit minister David Davis to warn that construction is facing a skills deficit.

The RIBA has joined a coalition of construction industry bodies to send a message to the government outlining six key priorities it must address to avoid a construction industry crisis when it leaves the European Union.

It warns that the construction industry is already facing a skills shortage, which could explode if Brexit cuts off access to European resources and staff.

The coalition includes the RIBA, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), the Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) and the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI).

The six priorities outlined by the coalition include access to skills, which highlights the issues raised by a potential loss of freedom of movement, "common standards" – a call for the UK to use the same technical standards as the EU and recognise professional qualifications across borders – infrastructure investment and a continued commitment to funding research and education.

Many of its points chime with those laid out in Dezeen's Brexit Design Manifesto, which was created using feedback and research by architects, designers, industry bodies and advisors, and has been signed by many of the sector's leading figures.

Related story: read the Brexit Design Manifesto and find out how to sign

"UK architecture, surveying, town planning and construction are flexible and innovative professions," said RIBA president Jane Duncan.

"I'm confident our members can help deliver strong economic growth in the UK," she added. "With the right actions taken from the government to address our industries' joint priorities, we can tackle the challenges and exploit the opportunities that Brexit will bring."

But Duncan added a warning that the UK must also tackle its housing crisis and economic imbalances to be able to compete in the international markets once it leaves the EU.

The coalition's letter also calls on the government to commit to a devolution of power to strengthen the status of the northern regions of the UK.

"There is a real concern within our industry that if access to a skilled workforce is further restricted, Britain could stop building," added RICS president Amanda Clack. "My colleagues and I would urge government to keep this at the front of their minds when they come to negotiate our withdrawal from the EU."

Read the six key points outlined the the RIBA and the construction body coalition in its letter to David Davis:

1. Access to skills – The greatest strength of our sector is the skill of our workforce. The free movement of labour within the EU has been vital to the growth and flexibility)of the construction sector. Access to a skilled workforce of the highest quality and a focus on developing the next generation of home-grown talent are critical to ensure we can build the homes businesses and infrastructure we need to compete globally. We therefore urge the Government to explore options and approaches to ensure that this access is not impeded to the detriment of the built environment.

2. Common standards - We believe that the UK has much to gain from pursuing an approach that makes it easier to do business with trading partners new and old. Access to markets in the EU and around the world has transformed the UK construction sector. The mutual recognition of qualifications and the development of common technical standards have reduced the barriers our members face working abroad. Reducing tariffs and harmonising standards have helped UK firms of all sizes expand to Europe and beyond. These common approaches have also meant that UK businesses can support best-practice in environmental and product standards, supporting efforts on global issues such as climate change. It is imperative that governments in the UK protect and promote the UK’s role as a leader in environmental and consumer protection standards.

3. Research excellence - Our members have benefitted from the collaborative research that the EU has enabled and promoted. Our future success depends on maintaining these relationships, while forging new ties with research organisations around the world. In addition the continued success of our world class university courses training our young people in the built environment is essential to the underpinning of research and the continued supply of labour for construction and allied activities.

4. Infrastructure investment - The UK’s global competitiveness will be hampered unless we do more to tackle the major infrastructure challenges we face. With a housing crisis, and growing concerns around energy, telecoms, road, rail and airport capacity, the Governments in the UK must seek and entice prospective investors to consider infrastructure of all kinds. Providing confidence to the construction industry through infrastructure funding and development will provide stability during a period of uncertainty and ensure that the UK is well-placed to take advantage of growth opportunities in the future.

5. Devolution commitment- The referendum has brought divide between the different parts of the UK into sharp focus. Our organisations welcome the recent commitment to continuing the Northern Powerhouse and we believe that further devolution from Whitehall should be a key priority for the UK government as powers move from the European Commission. Devolution will enable a rebalancing of the economy so that all parts of the UK can benefit from any new opportunities arising from the UK’s new relationship with the European Union, and is an effective way of ensuring infrastructure spending is efficient, timely, coordinated and accountable.

6. Community development – Through the extensive skills and experience of our members we are best-placed to advise on how the built environment can unlock new opportunities and combat existing challenges, as well as provide places for people to live, work and play. Leaving the EU could present a great opportunity for the UK, but it should not be associated with a drive to the bottom in the environmental and building standards which future generations will live with.