A metro mayor with a full devolution deal will play a key part in the future of South Yorkshire’s construction industry post Brexit, a high-level meeting in Sheffield heard.
A mayor wielding devolved powers and money could help the sector weather the “storm” after March 29 next year when Britain leaves the EU.
Developers fear strict immigration controls could reduce foreign labour - in a workforce already suffering a skills shortage - while tariffs could drive up the cost of imports, which comprise 25 per cent of UK construction materials, most from the EU.
Investment in building projects could be stifled by uncertainty, while Brexit could trigger a recession, the Forum for the Built Environment meeting was told.
The event was held at Sheffield law firm CMS,
Martin McKervey, of CMS, said areas with a metro mayor were receiving “a lot more public money,” citing the £1.7bn Transforming Cities Fund - half of which went to the six mayoral areas “without having to fill in a form.”
He added: “Devolution is important to South Yorkshire. We will elect a mayor in May and we must complete the deal otherwise we won’t be in the front line of cities.”
South Yorkshire has a £900m devolution deal in place, but it is on ice because the leaders of Barnsley and Doncaster are refusing to give their consent.
The meeting also heard that post-Brexit, councils could have the freedom to bring in ‘buy local’ policies favouring SMEs when launching publicly-funded construction schemes.
Amy Oakley, lawyer at Henry Boot, said: “It’s a chance for government to relax the procurement rules and make it more open to SMEs. It could give councils the flexibility to return money into the local economy.”
Meanwhile politicians at all levels were showing they understood the economic risks and were becoming more ‘pro-growth,’ according to Simon Collingwood, of PR firm Quatro.
He said: “At Sheffield City Council, growth is part of their job in a way that it hasn’t been before. There’s a sensitivity, understanding and willingness to want to move forward.”
He added: “We are getting an elected mayor in May, with a full deal hopefully coming forward, it’s an exciting time.
“The UK has the second highest level of inward investment in the world after the United States. I’m optimistic we will ride this storm.
“Regional governance is going to become increasingly important. The devolution genie is out of the bottle and I think mayors will run with it.”
Developer David Topham of CTP, which built the St Paul’s scheme in central Sheffield, said: “More is required from civic leaders to pull the levers to deliver the required stimulus to the sector.
“The viability gap is going to get larger rather than smaller.”
The last block in the scheme, 3 St Paul’s Place, cost £20m and received £6.8m of public money.