Keeping our capital working for the UK

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Time to see true value of EU talent

Mark Hilton, Director of Immigration and Employment, London First

Amidst further conflicting messages from the government on a Brexit deal, we have responded to government on the contribution of EEA-workers in the UK labour market and the need for a transition agreement with the EU.

Business has already set out evidence on the importance of EU talent to our economy and, in the absence of clear ideas from government, put forward an immigration proposal that would ensure a fair and managed system while keeping the door open to the skills business needs.

Our Facing Facts report shows London’s economy is growing at a faster pace than the UK skills system can provide sufficient workers for, not least thanks to foreign workers creating additional jobs that benefit British citizens. Over the next decade, 2.5 million potential job openings in London are at risk if we shut the door on migration. If the economy is to stay on its current growth path, it is crucial that business has access to the people it needs to fill its shortfalls, especially during times of unemployment as low as 4%.

In the hospitality sector, 70% of workers are born outside of the UK, with 30% from the EU. For some of our members this is close to 75%. Immigration policy is also a real concern for the capital’s construction sector, with worrying repercussions for the housing crisis. Half of London’s construction workers were born outside of the UK. The capital needs up to 13,000 extra new construction workers each year until 2021 in order to plug the skills gap and meet additional demands. Plans to inject further government funding to tackling the housing crisis will not make a difference to the state of housebuilding in London if we close the door on EU workers.

The government opened its migration consultation a year after the referendum. It will be yet another year until the government publishes the results of this inquiry. We should not be waiting until September 2018 to uncover the benefits of EU and non-EU labour. Businesses are working hard to recruit the best person for every vacancy they have, but there are just not enough British workers to fill the needs of a growing economy that is outpacing the current skills pipeline.

Business is also investing billions each year on training programmes for UK workers, but the skills system is not fit for purpose and requires a step change that will take time to deliver results. The skills shortages and future skills needs of a thriving economy will have to be supported through access to skills from the EU.

An immigration system that allows access to international talent will give business the certainty it has long been calling for. As we also argued in submissions to the Lords EU Select Committee and the Commons Brexit Select Committee, this, coupled with a transitional deal, will give business the confidence to plan ahead and make investment and recruitment decisions.

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