As the UK steps ever closer to leaving the European Union, civil engineers have sent out a clear warning that measures need to be taken to ensure the UK’s interconnectivity with Europe does not become an “afterthought”.
In a paper published by the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE), concerns are laid bare on what a post-Brexit Britain could look like and whether the government can continue to access crucial finances which prop up major infrastructural projects like Crossrail and wastewater improvements in Northumbria.
The institution has outlined five recommendations if and when the country leaves the EU in a bid to maintain connectivity with Europe whilst seeking to expand trade partnerships with the rest of the world.
Two of the calls include the need for the government to create a UK investment bank to fund and protect domestic infrastructure projects and to guarantee freedom of movement for overseas construction workers with an estimated skills gap of 400,000 workers the UK.
Those behind thee report highlight how the UK has benefited greatly from inward investment from the EU, with the European Investment Bank (EIB) investing some €31.3bn in the economy between 2012 and 2016.4 This is said to represent around one tenth of the financing for the current National Infrastructure Delivery Plan running to 2021. But since the decision to the leave the EU, this figure has already seen a big drop with just €1.8bn invested in 2017 – a 72% drop from 2016.
Should the UK lose access or considerable finance from the EIB, then the paper states that a new bank would be vital to ensuring big infrastructural projects within the UK get off the pipeline.
It reads: “ICE would encourage the UK to look at options to implement a UK investment bank. To keep any bank off balance sheet the government should consider using the UK Guarantees Scheme to underpin a privately owned and financed bank, supported in a similar way to the German investment bank KfW and with a similar mission to the EIB.”
The need for the government to ensure freedom of movement for some construction workers and other built environment professionals is also highlighted as vital. The paper identifies the need to retrain and up-skill around 250,000 of the existing construction workforce and 150,000 of the engineering construction workforce by the end of the decade.
A collaborative approach with European neighbours is necessary according to the ICE. “It is vital that EU economic migrants working directly within the built environment sector, or in associated industries, have certainty about their right to work and study in the UK in both the near and long term,” the paper adds. “This right should be reciprocal, allowing UK graduates and learners to access courses, work and share best practice and skills across the EU.”
Other recommendations involve the government and industry accelerating efforts to implement a digital transformation and innovative ways of working and the UK seeking to remain a member of the European Standards Organisations CEN and CENELEC.
In concluding, the group of engineers make it quite clear there will be challenges ahead once the country leaves but these can be met should there be a “focus on identifying need, ensuring contingencies, financing and being open to workers in Europe and around the world”.