David Blunkett warns of skills crisis on major projects

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A lack of engineers and other experts for major projects including a third runway at Heathrow risks causing “overheating” in London and the South-East, a former Cabinet minister warned today.

Lord Blunkett, chairman of the Heathrow skills taskforce, said that unless action is taken now to train or recruit enough workers for Britain’s upcoming infrastructure schemes then they could be hit by delays and spiralling costs as labour becomes more expensive.

He also raised concerns that more people with these key construction skills could be pulled into the South-East from other parts of the country, worsening the economic imbalance. “There is a number of really significant projects either about to start or in the pipeline,” he said, referring to the proposed new runway at Heathrow, the HS2 high speed line, Crossail 2 and the new nuclear power plant being built at Hinkley Point.

“This is about the whole issue of training a workforce for the future, adding value to both this project [the third runway] and also to contribute to the wider infrastructure programmes that are coming on stream over the next 15 years and to stop the over-heating of the economy of west London and the South-East.”

He backs Heathrow setting up at least four “hubs” across the country to train the required labour force, which could total 180,000 and 10,000 apprenticeships, especially with Britain heading for the EU exit door.

“With Brexit and the arguments about substantial closing of the door on inward migration, there is a danger that because so many of these projects are based in the South, that they will be competing for the same labour,” he said. “It’s very clear that in engineering … there are real shortages.

“If you are not going to fill those shortages by drawing people in from outside the country, you are going to have to plan now in order to be able to fill those vacancies given that we have a very low level of unemployment.” He also warned that if the Government closes the door to many EU migrants, Britain risks seeing work on infrastructure schemes being exported abroad and then having to be imported back into the country.

“That would be a very sad situation where we have blocked inward migration but we have effectively migrated the business out of the country.”

He also warned Jeremy Corbyn not to try to railroad the Labour Party into opposing a third runway.

“We are a party that is committed to employment and growth and to ensuring that that is spread as widely as possible,” he added.

Stressing that he was speaking in his Heathrow role, he added: “I can’t see the trade unions countenancing the Parliamentary Labour Party throwing away the opportunity of massive growth in employment and skills and great benefit to communities that are in desperate need of those jobs.”

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