Vital that the next UK government prioritises flexible immigration policy…

With the United Kingdom on the verge of a General Election, the big question for the ‘Homes for Wales’ campaign is what effect will the next UK government have on housing provision in Wales?

On the most elementary level, the UK government is not responsible for housing provision in Wales. That is the responsibility of the Welsh Government. The Welsh Government has also a number of levers affecting the provision such as responsibility for the planning system, building regulations and skills.

Does the UK Government therefore have a role at all? Put simply, yes. Less simply, yes, but often indirectly.

The one area that hasn’t been devolved that has the potential for the greatest effect on the building industry within the next few years is immigration. The building industry has been dependent on foreign labour ever since the potato famine in Ireland in the middle of the 19th century. Today, 13.4% of workers within the industry are foreigners, and of that, 8.3% come from a European Union member state. Over half of them work in London. Although the numbers in Wales are much smaller, if the next UK government implemented an inflexible immigration policy, London would become a magnet by offering higher pay to attract homegrown workers from outside the capital city, including Wales. That would exacerbate a skills gap that already exists.

The skills gap is an issue that has handicapped the building industry for years. The demand for skilled workers outstrips provision. Thousands of workers left the industry during the last economic recession and the industry has not succeeded in attracting them back or trained enough new workers to replace them.

The reasons for the crisis in housing supply are complex and numerous, but one reason is the lack of skilled workers that in turn means it’s more expensive and takes more time to build a house. It would be a crisis situation if the next UK government decides to turn to an inflexible immigration policy that stopped skilled workers from coming to Britain.

Like the crisis in housing supply, the skills gap is a complex issue and one that will take years to solve. The last thing the industry needs is for the next UK government to follow a policy of turning its back on EU labour and therefore aggravating the situation.

Ifan Glyn
– Director, Federation of Master Builders Cymru