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09 October 2019

Ongoing Brexit pain worsening chronic skills gaps

UK Small firms believe it has become harder to recruit and retain EU staff since the Brexit referendum, according to new statistics from the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB).

FSB’s research shows that one in five small employers have a team member from the EU and of these firms, over a quarter (26%) believe that recruitment of EU staff has become more difficult since the outcome of the EU referendum. Just under a fifth (18%) of these firms believe that retention of EU staff has become more difficult.

The research follows the release of the Government’s latest EU Settlement Scheme statistics which shows that only a half (1.5 million) of EU citizens have had their status approved. Pre-settled status numbers have jumped two per cent to 38%. According to the Office for National Statistics, there are currently around 2.3 million EU citizens working in the UK.

Responding to the findings, and the latest EU Settlement Scheme data, National Chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) Mike Cherry raised concerns about the impact uncertainty is having on small firms’ ability to recruit and retain EU staff.

He said: “European staff are absolutely critical for our small businesses with many relying on their skills and labour to grow, thrive and survive. This need flows across a wide range of sectors and skill levels – from care workers, to engineers, to office workers, small employers need easy access to these workers.

“Worryingly, uncertainty over EU citizens living and working in the UK is now really starting to hamper small firm’s ability to plug these chronic skills gaps. Coupled with falling EU immigration figures, we are in danger of shrinking an already diminishing talent pool and exacerbating a widening skills gap in the UK.

“It is of vital importance that the Government and EU secure a last minute Brexit deal that guarantees the rights of EU citizens living and working in the UK and of UK citizens living and working in the EU.

 “Small firms also need clear direction from the Government about what they are proposing for the UK’s future immigration system. As things stand, we are still in the dark about what this will look like and how it will work. This is particularly concerning for those small businesses in sectors like care and construction with a heavy reliance on EU employees and EU self-employed individuals.

 “A rethink is needed to ensure that small firms that rely on low-skilled workers and EU self-employed individuals, can access the staff that they need when they need them.”