The UK construction industry has warned that plans to introduce a new post-Brexit “UKCA” safety and quality mark will cause shortages of key building products and materials and damage the government’s levelling up agenda.
In a letter to Kwasi Kwarteng, business secretary, the Construction Leadership Council said that it wanted to raise “urgent industry concern” about the scheme, which is designed to assert the UK’s new regulatory independence after leaving the EU.
The warning from the CLC, a joint industry and government body, came despite the full introduction of the UKCA mark already being delayed by 12 months to January 1 2023 after industry warnings that it was not ready.
The UKCA “conformity assessed” mark is a British equivalent to the EU’s “CE” safety mark scheme, under which manufacturers must obtain safety certificates before placing products on the EU’s single market.
For basic items, companies can apply to have existing CE marks automatically converted into UKCA marks where regulations have not changed, but safety-critical products must be retested by independent British assessors. The CLC warned assessment bodies were in critically short supply.
They added that there was “limited or no capacity” for many basic products to be tested in line with UK Construction Product Regulations. They listed radiators, glass, glues and sealants among most affected products.
“If the current situation prevails, these products will not be available on the UK market after the January 2023 deadline,” the CLC said, calling for a “significant expansion of facilities” capable of issuing the UKCA certificates.
As an example, the CLC said that the inability to certify radiators in the UK “could delay the construction of over 150,000 homes” per year, in turn postponing the switch to low carbon heating, which is a key part of the government’s drive to reach “net zero” by 2050.
“The consequences are clearly damaging not only to the UK construction sector but also to the government’s ambitions around housebuilding, infrastructure, building safety and net zero in the built environment,” wrote Andy Mitchell, the co-chair of the CLC.
The group urged the government to conduct an audit of testing body capacity to identify where help was needed. In the interim, the CLC said the government should allow tests to be subcontracted, including to “overseas bodies”, until there was sufficient UK capacity.
“There are steps that can be taken to mitigate these risks, but action is needed now,” the letter concluded. “The extension of the deadline to January 2023 is not sufficient to prevent significant disruption.”
Peter Caplehorn, chief executive of the Construction Products Association, said the UKCA issue could have a serious impact on an industry already facing supply shortages and price rises as a result of disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
“In the short term the problem is a shortage of testing bodies. In the longer term companies are spending millions on recertification and our concern is UKCA will stifle innovation, reduce product ranges and [put] upward pressure on costs over time,” he added.
The business department said it was working to boost testing capacity in certain sectors and was considering how to support the expansion of the testing industry.
“Introducing the UKCA marking enables the UK to take back control of our own product regulations. We have provided two years for industry to adapt to these changes and it is important we don’t delay implementation any further,” it said.
Additional reporting by George Hammond