The building services engineering sector – which makes up 40 per cent of the UK’s construction and maintenance industry – believes it will successfully weather the outcome of Brexit over the next few years. That’s according to major new survey findings from the Electrical Contractors’ Association (ECA), the Building Engineering Services Association (BESA) and Scotland’s trade association for the electrical industry SELECT.
Almost half of survey respondents (46 per cent) believe Brexit will have a positive impact on their company in just five years’ time, with less than one in five (19 per cent) saying it will have a negative impact. (23 per cent said it would have no discernible impact). However, the largest contractors in the survey (with over £20 million turnover) are slightly less optimistic about the short term business prospects than smaller contractors.
The sector puts maintaining access to the EU ‘Single Market’ at the top of its list of Brexit aspirations, closely followed by more control of employment law and the need to negotiate non-EU trade deals. Despite the general positivity about Brexit, 47 per cent of respondents say they believe the cost of materials will rise as a result, while only 22 per cent do not think Brexit will cause this to happen.
Reflecting a general tendency to use skilled UK rather than EU workers, the vast majority (92 per cent) of respondents say they ‘do not rely on EU migrant workers’, and only 25 per cent agree that Brexit would ‘worsen the shortage of qualified workers’. In addition, just 1 in 6 respondents (17 per cent) said that maintaining freedom of movement was their top priority. Some 71 per cent of the largest contractors (over £20 million turnover) report they did not rely on EU workers, indicating more reliance than the average for the sector.
ECA CEO Steve Bratt commented, ‘No matter how our relationship with Europe develops, our sector has a huge role to play in achieving UK business growth. This includes providing skilled jobs, fully functional buildings and infrastructure, and UK energy security.
‘To help us achieve these aims, it’s vital that we know the initial views of our sector as we head towards Brexit. Significantly, contractors are telling us that they want the UK to maintain access to the Single Market, while they less concerned about ensuring freedom of movement.’
BESA chief executive Paul McLaughlin added, ‘Our survey clearly shows that many contractors are conditionally optimistic in the wake of the Brexit vote. In fact, putting these findings alongside the brighter than expected data for the UK economy as a whole gives us a much more upbeat feel than could reasonably have been predicted back in June.
‘The survey provides extremely valuable feedback about what matters most to contractors as the UK sets about negotiating a new relationship with Europe. As a result, we will draw up an action plan for the building engineering services sector to focus our lobbying efforts in the coming months.’
SELECT managing director Newell McGuiness stated, ‘The results of the UK wide survey provide a valuable insight into the hopes and needs of contractors and will be very useful as we seek to influence government policy going forward.’
The building services engineering sector, which spans construction and maintenance across the UK built environment and national infrastructure, comprises many multi-million pound contracting companies, and many more small contractors. Building engineering services contractors install and maintain a range of equipment such as electrical, heating and ventilating, fire and security, data communications and wireless, building energy management and renewables (e.g. solar PV).
The UK construction industry alone comprises some seven per cent of UK GDP.