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A
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Why Brexit will see a glass half-full emptied
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Why Brexit will see a glass half-full emptied

刊登 10.12.2018
Ken Shuttleworth

As much as possible, I try to be a glass-half-full kind of person. I agree with testing new ideas, with pushing boundaries, with taking risks. I like to see how things can be done differently. I don’t think things should stay the same just because we’re comfortable with it. I don’t necessarily agree with the adage ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’, because nine times out of ten, things can be improved.

I did my best to apply the same thinking to Brexit. The referendum result back in 2016 was not what I wanted – personally or professionally. But as a business leader with international as well as national interests, I felt it was imperative that we continued with ‘business as usual’. We have to carry on doing the best we can, showing the world that Britain is at the top of its game in architecture, regardless of the political environment we find ourselves in.

That being said, it has been a little hard to remain positive over the past few months while watching the negotiations for our EU exit. The continuing uncertainty has widespread negative effects that can’t be ignored or faced down with a ‘glass half full’ attitude. Not only is it forcing us towards an economic downturn as the property industry slows to assess the impact on investment, but it is also causing significant issues with recruitment and retention.

Britain’s architecture is globally sought after – people want to work for us and with us and commission work by us. If we become insular, that all goes away.

Numerous lobbying groups have repeatedly called for clarity and reassurance and pointed out the wide-ranging effects of attracting and retaining EU employees.

So while I appreciate the efforts of the PM to get a draft withdrawal deal on the table to make some kind of progress out of this quagmire, I am increasingly frustrated that this clarity is still to be found. I am grateful that I can confirm to my EU employees that should the deal be ratified, they will still have residency, but the future is as hazy as ever in terms of our rights to work overseas, and it’s not looking at all great for our future international recruitment.

Brexit comprises so many millions of decisions and balances, but surely high among the priorities should be retaining the country’s ability to be the best we can be. Within architecture that means being able to continue to attract talent. That is how we compete for projects; that is how we ensure that we stay at the top of the game; that is how we push our industry and in turn increase our contribution to the economy. Britain’s architecture is globally sought after – people want to work for us and with us and commission work by us. If we become insular, that all goes away.

And this isn’t a ‘what if’ scenario; it has already begun. The Architects’ Journal reported a drop in EU registrations of the Architects Registration Board by 42%, while recent Office for National Statistics figures show the largest-ever annual fall (132,000 over 3 months) of EU nationals in the UK workforce since records began in 1990s.

Even outside of the EU situation, the pay threshold for skilled worker visa applications is going up and up, and a Tier 2 Visa is becoming increasingly difficult to secure anyway. There is speculation that this is a result of spaces being prioritised for the NHS as it is no longer attracting EU doctors and nurses… because of Brexit. So there is added uncertainty for those who have less than the required quantity of service to apply for indefinite leave to remain or become a resident. This is having a real and tangible effect on Make, and I know we know we are not alone in this.

Of course, clients too are facing uncertainty of when, how and where to invest. As one international developer said to me recently: “You guys can argue among yourselves about the future of your country as much as you like. In the meantime, we’ll take our money elsewhere.”

If this carries on, I might need to drink my ‘glass half full’.

A version of this article first appeared in the December 1st print edition of EG.