New report: Scottish firms face "chronic skills gap" as Tory Brexit threatens EU workforce

Two thirds of Scottish small employers of EU workers are concerned about future skills shortages, according to new research from the FSB

SCOTTISH FIRMS face a “chronic skills shortage” as a result of the UK Government’s attempts to bring about hard Brexit according to a new Scottish specific study by the Federation of small businesses (FSB).

The report shows that two-thirds of small Scottish employers with EU workers are concerned that future skills shortages will force them to close operations, scale down their business or leave the country altogether.

The figures emerge as EU member states and their representatives meet in Brussels to discuss and finalise the negotiation guidelines for Brexit talks with the UK as it leaves the bloc. 

More than one quarter - 26 per cent – of Scottish small employers currently have a member of staff from elsewhere in the EU, with this figure rising to two in five - 41 per cent – in the Highlands. By comparison, about a fifth of UK firms have an EU worker.

The SNP say these figures show importance of the EU workforce to the economy of Scotland.

“Our data shows that our members predominantly recruit non-UK EU citizens because they’re the best candidates.” Andy Wilcox

Commenting on the findings of the FSB study, Callum McCaig MP and SNP spokesperson on business, energy and industrial strategy, said: “A hard-line Tory government pursuing a hard-right Brexit is the biggest threat to Scotland’s economy, jobs and long-term prosperity.

“This report underlines the huge damage that the Tories will do to Scotland’s economy if they are allowed to drag Scotland out of the European single market.

“EU nationals make a crucial contribution to our economy and society - it is vital that the UK government finally guarantees the residency status of all EU citizens living in Scotland.

“Access to skills and labour from across Europe is vital to the growth and success of Scottish businesses, public services and the rural economy – it would be sheer economic vandalism for the Tories to bring about this skills and labour shortage. A vote for the SNP in this election will deliver a strong voice against the Tories and in support of Scotland’s vital small businesses.”

“EU nationals make a crucial contribution to our economy and society - it is vital that the UK government finally guarantees the residency status of all EU citizens living in Scotland.” Callum McCaig MP

The FSB had said that its research shows why it is vital to Scottish businesses that EU workers are given the right to remain in the country after the UK leaves the EU.

Their study showed that, if Brexit created additional barriers to recruiting EU nationals, 37 per cent of Scottish small employers would consider reducing operations, 19 per cent would consider closing their business and 12 per cent would move their business abroad.

According to the FSB, 89 per cent of Scottish companies with EU workers recruited them when they were already living in Scotland and worry that a UK-wide points-based system would damage their prospects of keeping or hiring more talented people. 

Andy Willox, FSB’s Scottish policy convenor, said: “Smaller Scottish employers don’t have the resources of their larger counterparts to navigate complex immigration systems. Any future system needs to work for the real economy – and needs to flex to adapt to the needs of all sectors and geographies. It can’t just be big businesses that gain access to the skills they need.

“Our data shows that our members predominantly recruit non-UK EU citizens because they’re the best candidates. If our immigration system is set to change, then our skills system needs to do the same.”

When the Conservative leader Theresa May called a General Election for 8 June, she made the UK’s alleged economic success and hard Brexit the twin planks of her campaign.

The Conservatives have repeatedly claimed that they are preparing the UK to become a renewed global economic power.

Picture courtesy of Heather Anne Campbell

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