Brexit: Civil engineers call for 'flexible' immigration and procurement reform


Top infrastructure firms want to see Britain maintain a ‘flexible’ immigration policy and warned of price rises in the event of a shortage of labour, it has emerged.

Speaking to Transport Network, chief executive of the Civil Engineering Contractors Association (CECA), Alasdair Reisner, said labour movement was one of the key issues for infrastructure company’s post-Brexit.

Alasdair Reisner CECA chief executive

‘Our members use a lot of EU labour. I think we will be championing a flexible labour market. We need to listen to the public and although it was not explicit, it is clear that immigration was a big factor in the Brexit vote,' he said.

‘We want to deliver a efficient balance between UK and overseas labour. Industry has been quite flexible to the availability of labour. It does have an impact but it is more likely to effect cost rather than whether the work can go ahead.’

Mr Reisner also revealed that the sector hopes to see reforms to procurement regulations post-Brexit but anticipated less change than some might expect.

Currently all tenders from the public sector, which are valued above a certain financial threshold set by EU legislation, must be published in the Official Journal of the European Union (OJEU). EU regulations also cover issues such as state aid and client contractor engagement.

Mr Reisner, warned against ‘rapid wholesale changes’ despite criticism in some parts over the constraints of the current procurement model.

‘We would expect a fundamental part of the Government’s [Brexit] activity would be to put in place an alternative to the EU tender structures. While there will be a lot to appetite to reform procurement, a lot of it makes sense so we would expect a lot of it to be carried forward. There is a reason why procurement regulations exist. So it is likely there will be not as much change as people anticipate,’ he said.

Highways Maintenance Efficiency Programme advocate, Matthew Lugg, told Transport Network he agrees with this analysis: 'My advice to local authorities is that the current procurement system is going to stay for awhile. I don't think it will change much. We are talking about a lot of money and so we need a system with strong probity.'

He went on to highlight the high costs to the public sector of challenges to procurement processes, which could pose a risk to policy makers as they consider any reforms.

'Luckily we don't have many challenges at all in highways under the current system. Local authorities have got to grips with it,' he said. 

Mr Reisner raised the possibility of UK clients still publishing tenders on OJEU post Brexit, or a central government British version being established.

‘OJEU might still be on the table. There are other portals out there such as Contracts Finder that could be used as a means of advertising tenders to the market

‘Legally it would not have to be a central portal [but] I would expect government would want to have some level of consistency rather than everyone going off and doing their own thing.’

Mr Reisner said he sensed his members would like to see reforms to the current procurement regulations to allow more flexibility but not radical changes that could create more uncertainty in the market.

‘The big area of opportunity would be around [changing] the constraints on market engagement pre-procurement and the length of contracts. If you want to form a long-term relationship, EU rules are a constraint. Contractors do not want to lose that commercial tension, they do want to market test but they also want the opportunity to develop mature relationships.’

CECA is the representative body for companies who work to deliver, upgrade, and maintain the country's infrastructure.


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