Brexit threat to Cumbrian businesses

02 Nov 2017

Some Lake District hoteliers fear they could be forced to close if stringent restrictions on migrant labour are imposed after Brexit.

The findings come from a survey by Cumbria Chamber of Commerce.

It asked businesses if they employed EU migrants and what the impact would be if numbers were restricted after Brexit.

The survey also asked if job applications from migrants had declined since the EU referendum and if any migrant staff had left to return home. 

Rob Johnston, Chief Executive of Cumbria Chamber of Commerce, said: "At one end of the spectrum, we had businesses telling us they didn’t employ any migrant workers and that restrictions would have no effect.

"At the other, there were businesses concerned they would be unable to function and might close if the supply of migrants dried up.

"We estimate there are at least 10,000 EU migrants working in Cumbria, and the bulk of them are in the hospitality and food processing industries.

"These two sectors have the most at stake. In the Lake District, we found hotels where 50 per cent of the workforce are migrants.

"But it isn’t only businesses that employ migrant workers that expect to be affected by restrictions.

"Particularly in Eden and South Lakeland, where there is near full employment, any reduction in the pool of available labour would exacerbate recruitment difficulties for all businesses.”

A number of firms reported that some of their migrant workers had already returned home.

A large food business said that applications were "down significantly” and its existing migrant employees felt "very unsettled”. Another said that job enquiries from migrants had dried up completely since the referendum.

Hoteliers in the Lake District were most concerned about restrictions following the leak of a draft Home Office paper suggesting that Britain would end free movement and bring in a strict immigration policy with a minimum income threshold for would-be migrants from the EU.

One hotel described it as a "threat to the existence of the business”.

Another said: "We have to make it crystal clear to the Government that EU migrants are hugely essential to the Cumbrian economy and without them businesses will close.”

Cumbria Chamber was prompted to carry out the survey following a request from the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC).

Its findings have been fed into the BCC’s submission to the Migration Advisory Committee’s call for evidence on the impacts of Brexit. The committee is a public body that advises government on migration issues.

Rob said: "More than 16 months after the EU referendum, we are no clearer as to what restrictions on migrant labour will apply after Brexit.

"Our survey shows that some Cumbrian businesses would struggle to function without migrant workers, and we have made that point very forcefully in the submission to the Migration Advisory Committee.”

He added: "Our survey also explodes the myth that migrant workers are low or semi-skilled.
"We found examples of highly-qualified migrants in the nuclear industry, for example. They may be few in number but their contribution is huge.”

Any reduction in the availability of migrant workers is likely to compound the problem of Cumbria’s ageing workforce.

Cumbria Local Enterprise Partnership estimates that the county will require 80,300 additional workers by 2021 to replace those lost through retirement and outmigration, and to fill new jobs likely to be created.

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