Success of Bristol’s economy ‘at risk’ from post-Brexit clampdown on EU workers, says Business West

October 14, 2019

The government’s proposals for ending freedom of movement after Brexit would put Bristol’s economy at risk, with three-quarters of EU migrants in the city not eligible to work here, according the region’s largest business organisation.

A new report produced by Business West with the IPPR (Institute for Public Policy Research) says the skills and salary thresholds proposed in the 2018 immigration White Paper would severely limit future inward migration and hamper growth in crucial parts of the local economy. 

If these proposed thresholds were applied to EU employees currently living in the region, 75% of them would be found ineligible to live and work in the UK. This could severely damage Bristol’s flourishing high-skilled, high growth-industries – such as advanced manufacturing and digital and creative industries – which rely heavily on workers based in EU countries.

Other sectors likely to be affected include social care and hospitality.

Business West said the proposals also put at risk the West of England’s Local Industrial Strategy, which forms the basis of its authorities’ economic and job growth plans.

The report shows that over the past decade the number of EU migrants in Bristol has risen and migrants now make up 16% of the city’s population, working across all industries.

Many key employers rely on recruiting EU citizens without impediment, particularly given the city’s high employment rate of 77.6%.

Some sectors of the city’s economy – including hospitality and health and social care – are particularly reliant on migrant workers.

The report features interviews with Business West members who expressed deep concern over how they would adapt to the new restrictions, which includes an ‘unrealistic’ £30,000 salary threshold, skill level barriers and employer visa fees.

Among them is Aardman Animations founder and executive chairman David Sproxton, who said: “The VFX (visual effects) industry has grown much faster than other parts of the British workforce, and this has been in large part due to the ability of the UK to attract skilled and creative EU workers.

“They make up about 33% of the VFX workforce in the UK. European staff provide a unique asset, in part because of the longer and more vocational training they receive and in part because they bring a different cultural nuance, which adds to the creativity and innovation of our productions.

“Losing the pool of EU talent would put us at a disadvantage.”

The report makes a series of recommendations for the Home Office, including:

  •          Provide a forum for local and combined authorities to directly input into immigration policy making – with a formalised process for local areas to feed into policymaking and determine variations in the immigration system depending on local needs.
  •          Lower the salary threshold – with exemptions for critical sectors to support regional industrial strategies.
  •          Tackle poverty and inequality – incentivise better employment practices by providing visa benefits to employers who pay the Real Living Wage.

It also calls on Bristol City Council to:

  • Support existing residents to fill skills shortages in the local economy – to prepare for potential skills shortages after Brexit, the council should enhance careers provision, link up schools and FE colleges with employers, and ensure apprenticeships align with skills shortages which are most likely to occur.
  • Encourage labour market integration for existing migrants – help match skills to the right jobs to increase productivity. Expanding English language provision can help achieve this.
  •          Improve the working conditions of employees in low-paid sectors currently reliant on EU migrants – help maintain the attractiveness of these jobs for local residents after the end of freedom of movement, for instance by making sectors such as hospitality the focus of efforts to guarantee a Real Living Wage across the city.

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