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Brexit – Changing The Highways Sector for The Better?

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Rebekah Valero-Lee Building, Construction and Infrastructure

On 23 June 2016, 52% of the UK voted to leave the EU. Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon was triggered nearly a year later, meaning the UK now has two years to negotiate an exit deal.

Political posturing indicates that Brexit will have a positive impact on the UK economy, with several large infrastructure projects scheduled over the next ten years. One of the biggest of these projects is the development and regeneration of Britain’s highways.  However, with key details of the Government’s approach to Brexit still unknown, we can only speculate on how leaving the EU will impact this significant project.

Here we explore the key issues that Brexit poses with regards to our roads.

Migrant labour

Currently the UK relies heavily on migrant labour within the construction and infrastructure sector. 54% of construction workers in London alone are non-UK EU nationals, for the simple reason that we currently don’t have the skills to undertake the work.

It is clear that international migration has significant impact on the UK labour market. If the population of migrant workers were to reduce because of Brexit conditions, it would put significant pressure on the UK’s ability to deliver projects, such as the highways development.

This skills shortage is just another in a seemingly long line of issues. Worries over an ageing workforce, a lack of diversity and a deficit of modern skills are all pressing concerns in the highways sector.

The question is, can we continue the current model of migrant labour? Or, could Brexit signal a cultural shift in the sector, forcing companies to think differently about how to attract, retain and develop resource?

Cultural change

Whatever the outcome, Brexit will be a catalyst for change and it is clear that we will have to make significant step changes in how we source skills to ensure that highways projects are delivered.

Existing programmes, highways, nuclear (Hinkley Point C) and rail (HS2) are likely to continue as planned, with skills pressures manifesting across each of these infrastructure programmes. Therefore, we need to drive innovation and focus on training the next generation in order to fulfil the demands of each project.

It’s not all doom and gloom

Revealingly, research has shown that technology and automation will have a more significant impact on the roads sector in the UK than Brexit. This research indicates that the sector is confident that political change will not affect growth, and consequently is more than ready to adapt to technological change. A positive stance we think.

In a recent survey, a total of 80% of respondents believe that the highways workload will grow in the UK in the next five years, resulting in a surge of confidence within the sector. Therefore, although Brexit may bring with it some consequences, these consequences are the beginning of an imperative change for the sector.

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Read more: We took a look at the fascinating world of intelligent infrastructure – click here to find out more.