The Association for Consultancy and Engineering (ACE) champions the built environment, representing the views of around 450 members. Our members employ over 60,000 in the UK and 250,000 worldwide, contributing more than £15 billion to the UK economy, and provide design and engineering skills for the full range of built environment projects, including both national and local transport projects.
The UK is predominantly a service economy and while financial services has attracted most attention in the discussions around the FTA, the broader professional services sector, of which engineering and design consultancy is an important part, is very different in its business models and ways of working. it is also a sector whether UK is recognised to have world- leading expertise and British consultancies are active in infrastructure and built environment work across the globe.
In the remainder of this evidence we have responded to the questions that are most relevant.
What is the impact of the UK-EU free trade agreement on trade in services?
On the face of it the trade in services is encouraged by the free trade agreement (FTA) for example through the prohibitions on local presence requirements and the allowance for visa- free business travel for periods of under 90 days. In practice though it should be noted that this broadly positive high level approach is complicated by the fact that the agreement leaves most of the detail either to individual Member States or to future amendments to the FTA or under its auspices – for example on data protection or mutual recognition of qualifications. This creates ongoing uncertainty for firms in a sector where a visible and coherent pipeline of future work opportunities is important for company viability.
Having said that at this point there is a fairly low level of concern coming through from ACE members as to the impact of the FTA. There is a recognition that it is difficult to know how significant any of the challenges from the end the transition period and the FTA will prove to be as Covid is effectively precluding business travel at the moment.
What effect will arrangements on the mobility of professionals have on trade in services between the UK and EU?
This is one of the most significant issues. The value added to clients is often predicated on firms’ ability to combine specialists and skill sets into agile teams which can often be drawn from different countries. The changes to business travel as a consequence of end of the transition period and the FTA could therefore be important and firms need to consider both will need to consider both the ease of physical movements of people between the UK and the EU and their ability to carry out their professional services when they arrive at the destination.
There is no obvious ‘showstopper’ in terms of mobility of professionals but there are a number of issues where the uncertainty and potential complexity of the new arrangements could create some challenges.
How will the new EU-UK framework for the mutual recognition of professional qualifications affect professionals and service sector businesses?
Mutual recognition of qualifications is a very important issue for the sector. For example companies may recruit engineers from the EU27 to fill specific skills gaps in the UK – this would be undermined without mutual recognition. A lot rests now on the UK and EU professional bodies working pragmatically and efficiently with EU counterparts under the provisions of the FTA to agree mutual recognition. Business can provide a steer on which professions are most crucial.
Professional structural engineering/design standards are also important. The ‘Eurocodes’ have harmonised these across the EU and it is important that the UK continues to with these codes and contribute to their development through CEN.