Dear Prime Minister
The British Chambers of Commerce have today written to members of your cabinet to set out the concerns of our members in relation to the growing skills shortage in the UK and how changes to immigration post-Brexit may exacerbate this situation.
We do so because this is an issue that affects businesses of all shapes and sizes, across all sectors, and it is therefore imperative that the leaders of a broad range of Government departments understand the implications of the emerging migration policy for business and for the UK economy.
Civic businesses across the chamber network are committed to investing in home grown skills, and we are pleased to be working closely with the government on reforms to technical education, particularly around T-levels and apprenticeships.
We were delighted last week when the government announced reforms to technical education, putting them on a par with academic routes. We believe that this will go a long way to ensuring that the UK skills base grows over the next few years.
The government must recognise, however, that there is no overnight solution to resolving the skills crisis. Investing in skills must go hand in hand with the ability of employers to recruit quickly and easily from abroad when they can demonstrate that, despite their best efforts, they are unable to recruit from the local and wider labour market.
Member companies, of all sizes, across all sectors and in every region of the UK, rely on the skills and labour of EEA workers to fill vacancies when they are unable to recruit at home. Businesses across all sectors are extremely concerned about their ability to fill lower skilled job vacancies post Brexit. The social care sector, for example, consists of 17% foreign nationals, and last year there were 90,000 unfilled vacancies.
At a time when the UK population is ageing, and we need more people to fill these roles, we know there are not enough home-grown workers to ensure a steady supply of labour for these jobs. Dramatic restrictions on immigration for lower skilled workers would be disastrous, as would a system that massively increases the cost to business of employing overseas workers.
If the government is to create a post-Brexit immigration system that works for all business, all regions and the wider economy, there are a number of fundamental concerns that require urgent attention;
- The future immigration system should reflect the importance of low-skilled labour to UK businesses and include a flexible route for businesses to access EEA low-skilled workers on a permanent and seasonal basis
- The new system should be sensitive to sectoral pressures and skills shortages to ensure that vital sectors, such as health and social care, are able to easily access the skills and talent that they need once they have demonstrated that they are unable to hire locally
- The Shortage Occupation List should be expanded to include medium skilled job roles. The SOL should also include lower skilled roles where there is evidence of a national shortage and where it is sensible to recruit from outside of the UK.
Business needs skills at all levels. Our civic businesses are at the forefront when it comes to developing the skills base of the workforce – but there is, and always will be, a need for UK employers to seek talent at all levels from across the world to grow our businesses and their economic contribution.
This also requires sensitivity to different local labour markets across the UK where an arbitrary £30K salary threshold will hurt businesses across the board.