However much information I read and try to assess what the future might look like for the trades, as we exit the EU and beyond, the reality is that nobody actually knows what’s going to happen in the long term, we can only have some idea about what might happen in the short term.
“…there is very definitely still an intact EU for us to leave and therefore the problems remain”
My own thoughts at the start of the year were, honestly, ‘will there be an EU to leave?’ With the European elections coming up, all eyes were firstly on the Netherlands: would they go for a party and leader that was anti-EU? In the end, they went for a centre-right Prime Minister, Mark Rutte, although his number of seats were reduced.
Next up, France: would the extraordinarily right wing and anti-EU politician, Marine Le Pen, win? No, it was another result in support of the EU, with Emmanuel Macron’s win.
Germany has still to go but, unless something dramatic happens - and it has been known - it looks as though Chancellor Angela Merkel will win yet again.
Meaning the EU is probably safe for now.
As a result, there is very definitely still an intact EU for us to leave and therefore the problems remain: we don’t know how long the leaving process is going to take and we don’t know what the ultimate deal will look like.
This means the trade sector has the same struggle as every other, trying to button down what might happen in the general economy. What we know now is that it does seem to be fairly buoyant and certainly the forecasters are being positive, which is good news, as it removes the biggest threat to anyone’s business.
“The industry needs to look at what can be done to reduce its current dependence on migrant workers or, indeed, to ensure these essential workers are retained.”
Next, there is the issue of labour. How will our businesses survive if EU migrants either choose to leave – as some have already done - or are forced to ‘go home’, and what percentage of the workforce would that represent? The industry needs to look at what can be done to reduce its current dependence on migrant workers or, indeed, to ensure these essential workers are retained. Is it now essential to start working with schools, colleges and universities at a local, practical level to ensure that whatever happens, we have the people and skills we need to survive.
Next, there are the materials that are required. Do house builders carry on building with brick and block or turn to more innovative products such as modular homes? Can they adapt to source more materials from outside the EU as a backup or work with what can be secured from within the UK? And how would a major move like this affect employment and skills of the trades of the future?
It might be time for a complete re-think of what we buy and where we buy it from, potentially opening up an opportunity to deliver better built-projects in the future. Whatever moves are made, we have to remember that inertia is one of the worst ways to react at times like this, so doing nothing is not an option.
Last, but not least, from a business perspective, where will the finance come from to support projects in the future? How many companies in the construction sector are reliant on the likes of the European Investment Bank (EIB) or the European Investment Fund (EIF). It’s estimated that 7.8bn euros have been invested in major infrastructure projects in the UK and if that investment is lost and not replaced, the likes of HS2 could be put in jeopardy.
“There finally seems to be an understanding in government that investing in large infrastructure projects is a good thing to do after a recession”
We should all take heart that there finally seems to be an understanding in government that investing in large infrastructure projects is a good thing to do after a recession, as it helps us climb out of debt while borrowing rates are cheap. In addition, the plans to build more homes than we have for many years do suggest that success is not only possible, but probable, for those that can manage their business wisely through these uncertain times.
Read more about how the UK trade sector can survive Brexit in another of our articles written by industry expert, Kate Faulkner.
Kate Faulkner is one of the UK’s leading property experts. Kate produces independent property prices and rent reports, working with forward thinking companies to educate and inform consumers on carrying out property projects successfully. Kate co-hosts LBC’s Property Hour, is a BBC5Live midnight expert and regularly appears on the BBC, ITV, in The Telegraph, writing blogs for magazines such as Period Ideas.