A need for clear answers

Published:  12 September, 2018

The ONS quarterly migration figures, which show net migration has fallen to its lowest level since 2012, will be of real concern for manufacturers that are already struggling to fill vacancies and ultimately skills gaps.

As a consequence these figures are certainly nothing to celebrate, as Jane Gratton, head of business environment and skills at the British Chambers of Commerce, recently emphasised.

Given businesses are facing record skills gaps at every level, to see the decline in people from Europe coming here to work is disappointing. As Gratton points out, despite efforts to recruit at home, plus heavy investment in training, employers still need people to fill job vacancies where there are local shortages. It is also odd that as we leave the EU our government doesn’t seem to be shouting from the rooftops about its desire to keep attracting talented people from the Continent and beyond who want to live and work in one of the world’s most dynamic economies.

With changes to immigration policy yet to kick-in, I agree with Matthew Fell, CBI UK policy director, who says the figures highlight the importance of getting the post-Brexit system right. The system that replaces free movement needs to be both open and controlled. It must ensure that the UK is an attractive place where people want to come and work. Otherwise with record high employment already impacting ability to hire, businesses face a double whammy that could stunt their ability to grow and damage their global competitiveness.

Ultimately, as Gratton has pointed out, businesses don’t want to hear silly gimmicks like UK-only passport queues at the border, which deliver no benefits and make the UK seem unwelcoming and closed-minded. Instead, firms need absolute clarity on what the UK immigration system will look like, when new rules will take effect, and whether government has the courage to take a scythe to the Kafkaesque bureaucracy of the Home Office.

Manufacturers needs clear answers for their businesses and very soon. Let’s hope The Immigration White Paper when it finally appears provides them.

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