According to the findings of a new survey by the Electrical Contractors' Association (ECA), the Building Engineering Services Association (BESA) and SELECT, Scotland’s trade association for the electrical industry, 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.
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 turnover of £20m+) 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 said: “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.”
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