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Mayor of London calls for temporary visa scheme for construction workers

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan has called on Government to create a temporary visa scheme for construction workers to alleviate the impact of Brexit and the pandemic on the building industry.

The Mayor is proposing that ministers create a Coronavirus Recovery Visa to help sectors that are struggling with shortages of workers, including construction. The visa should offer at least 12 months to work in the UK and be appropriately tailored to sectors like construction where many workers prefer to work on a self-employed basis.

The Mayor is also calling for a regional shortage occupation list that allows London and other cities to attract and retain staff in sectors with acute labour shortages.

Prior to Brexit, the capital was dependent on migrant building workers with more than half the workforce being from the EU and beyond. ONS figures show that the number of construction workers in London from the EU fell 54 per cent between April 2017 and April 2020. Furthermore, the UK-born construction workforce is ageing, with an estimated 10-20 per cent reaching retirement age in the next five years.

Whilst a temporary visa scheme would provide a short-term fix, the Mayor is determined that young Londoners see the building industry as a positive and viable career, allowing them to benefit from the wide range of opportunities available in the sector whilst building the homes and infrastructure London desperately needs. This was the impetus for the Mayor to set up his Mayor’s Construction Academy (MCA) in 2018, connecting Londoners to training in the skills they need to access vacancies in the capital’s developments, in trades, professions and management. Since the MCA programme’s launch, more than 24,500 Londoners have completed construction training.

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan said: “Tackling London’s housing crisis has always been one of my top priorities since becoming Mayor. We’ve worked tirelessly over the last five years to get London building again, and the construction sector forms a key part of London’s Covid recovery plan. However, both our recovery and efforts to deliver the genuinely affordable homes Londoners desperately need could now be put at risk if there isn’t the skilled workforce available to build them.   

“The Government must look beyond their current blinkered approach to immigration and recognise the impending crisis that is already enveloping one of our most vital industries.

“Training our own people to take on jobs in the construction sector is an admirable aim and one we’re working hard to meet but in the meantime, we need skilled tradespeople on site now to manage the short-term crisis and build a strong recovery.”

Brian Berry, Chief Executive of the Federation of Master Builders, said: “While the construction industry has been struggling with skills shortages for some years, the impact of the pandemic and the UK’s exit from the EU have intensified the issue.

“Long-term action to improve and encourage greater numbers into the UK’s skills system is necessary, but short-term solutions like emergency visas will be a real shot in the arm for an industry under pressure.

“Especially in London where there has been a reliance on construction workers from the EU to fill the skills gap. The FMB’s most recent State of Trade Survey for Q3 2021 found that 60% of local builders had been forced to pause jobs due to a shortage of labour, with nearly 50% struggling to recruit into key trades such as bricklaying and carpentry.

“A boost in the numbers of skilled workers will help support SME builders deliver much-needed new homes and retrofit existing houses to help lower carbon emissions.”

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