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Outlook bright beyond Brexit

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The start of a new year is a traditional time for crystal ball gazing by journalists; it gives us a chance to change our focus from reporting on what has already happened to talking about what we see happening next. However, it is never an easy task, and journalists’ track records in forecasting are no better than anyone else’s.

This year the outlook is even more unclear than usual, with the uncertainty surrounding Brexit playing havoc with economic fundamentals. At the time of writing it was completely unclear what the outcome would be – deal, no-deal, Norway plus or something else.

The media has been full of stories about what might happen if the UK does or doesn’t strike a deal. In the construction press, stories abound about possible threats to imports of key construction materials, and of companies stockpiling materials in case of supply disruptions. Other fears centre on the ability of the construction sector to function without the ease of access to a European workforce that it has come to rely on, with some 10% of workers in the industry now said to be from the EU, with a far higher percentage in London.

The structural steelwork supply chain has been looking at what the potential is for disruption to its own supply chain; the good news is that the sector is confident that steelwork will continue to be supplied as usual, whether a deal is struck or not.

The BCSA stresses that there is no threat to the supply of structural steelwork to UK construction projects arising from Brexit. The domestic steelmaking sector has a long established supply chain of its own, which does not depend on raw material or other supplies from European sources. While the UK does rely on raw steel imports from Europe, the steel supply chain is highly developed with stockholders and distributors maintaining sufficient stock of steel as part of their service.

BCSA President Tim Outteridge in a recent President’s column in NSC explained that even a no-deal Brexit is in fact unlikely to cause any upset to the production or availability of structural steelwork in the UK.

Another vexed question for the construction industry is the impact of leaving the EU on the availability of a skilled workforce, but the steel sector expects minimal impact from this. Steelwork contractors operate their fabrication workshops throughout the UK but, because their workforce is largely specialist, full-time and offsite, the sector does not face the same labour force issues as many other trades.

However Brexit works out over the coming year, the steel construction sector is confident of being able to continue to supply world-leading constructional steelwork needed to meet the needs of its customers in a post-Brexit world.

Nick Barrett

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