Dean Watson looks at immigration and the skills crisis in the construction industry after Brexit.

The Government is committed to spending billions to improve UK infrastructure, opening the door to untold opportunities for construction businesses. The question is, how will new immigration rules impact post-Brexit given the ongoing skills crisis?

Under proposals from the Migration Advisory Committee, EU nationals who want to work in the UK after the transition periods ends (December 31) will need a job offer and sponsorship. The good news is that minimum salary levels will be lowered and with the required skill level reduced to A-Level standard the new system paves the way for site supervisors, carpenters and joiners to work here.
On the flip side, the onus is on employers to ensure that employees from EU countries can prove their right to work in the UK, either by status under the EU Settlement Scheme, proof of arrival in the UK before 31 December 2020 or compliance with new immigration regulations.

Some roles will be precluded from visa sponsorship and self-employed EU workers will also be ruled out by the new system. Meanwhile, sponsorship costs, including the immigration skills charge and health charge, look set to increase.

The government could extend the low-skills visa to two years, to allow workers to qualify for a high-skilled visa once in the UK, but there are no plans to do so. It’s therefore down to individual firms to tackle the skills issue.

Start by confirming the number of EU nationals employed, brief them fully to ensure they understand the EU Settlement Scheme and plan upgrades to systems so that they can cope with more rigorous checks. By recruiting EU national workers now firms can avoid a hike in sponsorship fees. At the very least, they can budget for higher future costs.

Hiring and upskilling British workers is another option. However, it may be easier said than done for smaller contracting firms, which may not have the resources to set up training.

From 2021 it will be harder to attract suitably skilled EU workers, so individual businesses must act now to determine what’s best for them and ensure appropriate resources are in place post-Brexit.

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John Woodhall examines the Government’s plans to reduce the impact of flooding on communities.

Government data shows that one in 10 new homes is built on a flood plain. In the wake of flood damage caused by Storms Ciara and Dennis, greater resilience is essential if we are to minimise the impact of climate change on our communities.

As a priority, existing properties must be properly protected, so it was good to see the Budget contain £5.2billion of government investment in a five-year flood and coastal defence infrastructure programme.

As extra money, on top of what the Environment Agency is already allocating to maintain existing flood defences, it’s a step in the right direction and a positive story for the West Midlands. With £23 million earmarked for the Severn Valley and £7 million each for Tamworth and Solihull, thousands of properties will benefit from enhanced protection.

One thing is certain, we cannot afford to disregard the impact on families when residential developments flood. Since 2009, some 70,000 houses have been built on sites likely to flood, according to research by independent think-tank Bright Blue and 20,000 are without any kind of defences. There is also the not insignificant matter of insurance, as homeowners in properties built in high-risk areas after 2009 may well be unable to obtain cover.

Over recent years calls for action by various advisers and industry experts have gone largely unheeded. Now, it seems the government is taking the issue seriously. We welcome recommendations from the Environment Agency that new homes should only be built on sites prone to flooding if there is no viable alternative and agree that, where development of flood plains is the only option, properties will require flood-proofing.

Tree planting, the creation of wetland habitats and restoration work to allow rivers to follow their natural course are among the Agency’s proposals. It also advises that building at ground floor level should be limited to garages. We suggest that a definitive list is drawn up, including greater use of resilient building materials and positioning electrical points comfortably above expected flood levels.
The Government has set an ambitious house building target. If it comes to it, the planning system should dictate choice of site, incorporate regulations that make flood plain development a last resort and spell out how to make homes flood proof.

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James Shelley assesses the benefits of the New Homes Ombudsman to the UK’s house building sector.

The Government has confirmed it will set up the New Homes Ombudsman, an independent watchdog with statutory powers to resolve disputes between house builders and home buyers. We applaud the decision to press ahead with an initiative that will not only offer extra protection to consumers, but will also help to drive up quality standards.

Independent and operating separately from other industry watchdogs, the New Homes Ombudsman represents a serious crackdown on shoddy workmanship. The Government’s aim is to speed up the resolution of disputes, ensure that defects are rectified quickly and award compensation to consumers who deserve it.

It’s welcome news for buyers who currently have no independent access to redress if things go wrong and may face a lengthy and costly court case to resolve their dispute.

Ultimately, the aim is to drive up standards. The Government will legislate for a Code of Practice, setting out what consumers can expect and covering a developer’s entire buying and selling process. The New Homes Ombudsman will work to this Code when adjudicating complaints and use it to promote best practice.

It’s only right that access to support will be free for home buyers. Funding will come from organisations that commission or build new homes to sell, so commercial developers, housing corporations, private developers who construct shared ownership properties and social housing providers that sell freehold homes will be required by law to belong to the New Homes Ombudsman.

If their dream home is defective, consumers expect house builders to be held to account. Where tradespeople fail to meet key quality standards, the onus will be on those commissioning the work to fix defects. If developers don’t come up to scratch, the new watchdog has the powers to expel them. This is bound to have a positive knock-on effect, as house builders choose to contract with the most skilled and reliable carpenters and bricklayers.

We wait to see how the New Homes Ombudsman takes shape. But who can argue with a well-intentioned attempt to improve standards throughout the house building sector, drive out rogue builders and deliver a better service to home buyers?

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Call to ‘Get Britain Building’ again.

Get Britain Building, the campaign originally set up in 2008, was relaunched in February 2020. The Building Alliance, the Builders Merchants Federation and the Federation of Master Builders are calling on the Government to support SME builders and construction products manufacturers and distributors, to invest in upgrades to existing homes and to introduce a skills improvement initiative.

Constructing West Midlands 2 progresses.

Coventry, Nuneaton and Bedworth, Solihull, Rugby and Warwickshire councils are calling in bids for the Constructing West Midlands 2 construction framework. The framework runs for 48 months initially and eight contractors will be appointed on a £2.1bn programme of works to be carried out over six years.

Regional office construction on the rise.

Office construction across Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds and Belfast continues to grow according the latest Deloitte Real Estate crane survey. Almost 2 million sq. ft. of office space was delivered in 2019 with a further 4.3 million sq. ft. currently under construction. More than 775,000 sq. ft. was delivered in Birmingham, which equates to a quarter of a million sq. ft. more than at any time since the first Birmingham survey in 2002.