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CBI says housebuilding and major projects depend on EU workers

Words: Huw Morris

The UK must have continued access to EU workers to plug skills gaps and labour shortages if it is to build vital homes and deliver critical infrastructure projects the country needs, warn business leaders.

In a major report on immigration, the Confederation of British Industry says 18 different sectors including agriculture, construction, creative industries, hospitality, public transport, the NHS, retail and logistics depend on EU workers.

Maintaining access to people and skills is a “high priority for business in the UK”, adds the CBI, after consulting employers and trade associations representing 129,000 firms.

In construction, EU workers are vital if the UK is to build half a million more new homes by the end of 2022 and deliver major projects including High Speed 2, Northern Powerhouse Rail and the expansion of Heathrow.

Workers from outside the UK make up 15 per cent of the total construction workforce, rising to 50 per cent in London. Firms in other parts of UK, which less directly depend on overseas labour, fear knock-on skills shortages if the capital and the South East draw in workers from around the country to fill roles occupied by migrants.

Overseas workers fill the full range of roles from labourers, technical skills through to professional occupations including architects and civil engineers, with 5 per cent now in senior management positions.

It calls on the government to drop the “blunt target” of 100,000 migrants a year and introduce freedom of movement rules for EU citizens post-Brexit.

CBI deputy director general Josh Hardie said an injection of honesty is urgently needed in political arguments about migration.

“This is no longer a theoretical debate; it’s about the future of our nation,” he added. “The stakes couldn’t be higher.

“Get it wrong, and the UK risks having too few people to run the NHS, pick fruit or deliver products to stores around the country. This would hurt us all – from the money in our pockets to our access to public services.”

The report is available here