Whilst the national focus has understandably been on navigating the Coronavirus crisis, the looming end of the transition period is ensuring Brexit discussion is steadily rising up the news and political agenda.
With the UK’s transition period with the European Union coming to an end on 31 December 2020, increased attention is now being placed on ensuring the construction sector is prepared. At one end of the scale, Travis Perkins’ recent customer survey ‘Repair, Maintenance and Improvement Index — Surveying the Nation’s Tradespeople’, suggests that trade professionals are largely unconcerned about Brexit.
The national merchant polled 1,300+ tradespeople working in a variety of specialist fields across the country and over a third of respondents believe there will be no direct impact on their business in the event of a ‘no deal’ outcome. Furthermore, while some clearly do have concerns about the repercussions of a ‘no deal’ outcome, only 3% said they had taken steps to lessen the potential impact.
Yet whilst micro- and small businesses feel unconcerned, many further up the supply chain are expanding their plans to prepare for multiple potential outcomes in the absence of a clearer roadmap from government.
For example, in its recent communications to members, the Timber Trade Federation has been highlighting “the actions and resources you should be taking advantage… as we lead into the biggest shift in UK trade policies and regulations in a generation”. Brexit will have numerous implications for the timber market, including border checks and potential tariffs along with a UK replacement for the EUTR.
Merchants will need to be aware of how these changes will affect their own supply chains and, if they import timber in from EU countries themselves, they will become ‘Operators’ instead of their current status as ‘Traders’, and so will face new obligations. Plenty of detailed information is available of the Brexit pages of the TTF website.
For the wider building sector, the Construction Leadership Council has recently constituted a dedicated Brexit Working Group to “produce and signpost business guidance and information” to help the industry get ready and maintain business continuity. The Group will also aim to identify critical issues facing the industry (in the event of no agreement) that the Government should address in advance of the expiry of the transition period.
The work of the group will be split into four workstreams covering Movement of People, Movement of Goods and Materials, Standards and Alignment, and Data Adequacy. Alongside the Construction Products Association, the BMF will co-chair the Movement of Goods and Materials workstream which will focus on preparing for the new customs regime, guidance on WTO rules in the event of no agreement with the EU and alternative sourcing opportunities in the rest of the world and the domestic market.
The BMF has also established a dedicated Brexit landing page on its website which will host guidance and advice produced by the organisation, the CLC, government and other relevant bodies to help prepare merchants and manufacturers for the changes in the nation’s trading relationship with the EU.
In addition, the BMF reports that it is working with members and other stakeholders across the country to support the post-Brexit and post-Covid 19 economic recovery. For example, it is looking into concerns surrounding the Migration Advisory Committee’s forthcoming report to the UK Government on a ‘Shortage Occupation List’ to identify potential skills shortages in relation to the country’s new immigration policy.
Unlike Scotland, Wales does not have its own List and the BMF has seen the Welsh contribution to the UK proposal in which ministers in Cardiff disagree with London’s approach, highlighting several key occupations — especially in manufacturing and construction — that should be added to support the particular needs of the Welsh economy.