There is still confusion about what Brexit will mean for the finishes and interiors sector. David Frise, chief executive at FIS, considers some of the issues in this month’s Voice of the Industry. 

“If you’re not confused, you’re not paying attention,” said business guru Tom Peters, and I have to confess, I have been paying attention and I am confused about what Brexit will mean for the sector. I’m reading lots of articles and opinion pieces and listening to the experts with increasing confusion about what is relevant and what is not. How are we supposed to understand when it is evident that the there was no plan in place for this eventuality?

Some very basic questions remain to be answered, not least of which is whether we will remain in the single market. This has implications for the free movement of labour across the states and raises the possibility of trade tariffs being imposed. Add to the mix elections in Germany, Holland and France, which will muddy the waters and make sensible deal-making more difficult. Neither side will want to cut off their noses to spite their faces, but uncertainty is not good for any of us.

The economic indicators and ‘confidence’ polls are still infected by the shock in the immediate aftermath of the result and by the fact we were actually in decline prior to the vote. The world economy is not doing very well as indicated by the long-term historically low interest rates. It is also very difficult to get truly impartial, objective views; many newspapers and columnists are looking for the “I told you so moment” – so who to believe?

In truth, it may be some time before the picture becomes clear, and we will have to live with that uncertainty. What we need is for the government to tidy up areas of uncertainty that they have generated and are nothing to do with Brexit. I attended a briefing  on the new Trailblazer Apprenticeships recently and left very confused about the best route for the sector. Trailblazers are coming into operation; the first three in construction have been approved with more to follow. FIS is participating in two: Interior Systems, and Plastering and Drywall. It is planned that sometime before 2020, only trailblazers will be able to use the term ‘apprenticeship’ and attract funding from government, although others may still att act funding from CITB.

The problem is that the process is lengthy and could lead to employer funding being lower than what would have been available under the current CITB funding arrangements.

Then we have to factor in the impact of the new Apprenticeship Levy. The announcement of how this will operate was understandably delayed, but last month the government confirmed that it will come into force in April 2017, although much of the detail is still unknown.

A new report on skills by Lord Sainsbury was published in July which is set to change post-16 education. Students will be able to embark on one of 15 new pathways, including construction, engineering and manufacturing. How will this affect apprenticeships?

Add to this the uncertain future of CITB as it deals with the impact of reduced levy resulting from the new Apprenticeship Levy and faces the consensus vote next summer about whether the industry wants to continue with the construction levy scheme.

Confused? As we know, you want to take on apprentices, but this should not be an all-consuming activity. It is our job at FIS to try and work out what will work for you, allowing you to get on with running your business with the right skilled workforce. Our plea to government is to please clarify this situation as quickly as possible because if we are to reduce the number of EU workers in the UK, we need to train people to replace them as quickly as possible.


FIS chief executive