Scotland risks professional ‘brain drain’ outside EU

Skilled workers may turn away from the UK in the event of a 'hard Brexit', warned the head of ACCA Scotland. Picture: Jane Barlow

Skilled workers may turn away from the UK in the event of a 'hard Brexit', warned the head of ACCA Scotland. Picture: Jane Barlow

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The prospect of a “hard Brexit”, placing restrictions on the freedom of movement by EU nationals, could have a severe impact on Scotland’s ability to retain a skilled workforce, a senior accountant warned today.

Craig Vickery, head of the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) Scotland, urged the country’s business community to take a firm stance on highlighting the impact that tough new rules on immigration could have on the economy.

There is a risk that talent could leave or be poached from the UK

Craig Vickery

He said: “It is no secret that there is a shortage of skilled workers in many sectors and specialisms, particularly in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics related areas.

“This challenge has been mitigated in part by access to skilled labour from other parts of the world, particularly from the EU. However, with the UK’s imminent departure from the EU, the challenge to business of accessing highly skilled and specialist talent could be further exacerbated.”

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His comments came as the Institute of Directors (IoD) said Theresa May should abandon the net migration target and guarantee the rights of all EU citizens living in the UK. The organisation said the “arbitrary and illogical” Tory goal of bringing net migration down to the “tens of thousands” should be scrapped by the Prime Minister and Home Secretary Amber Rudd as part of a “reset” of immigration policy.

The IoD report called for the government to ensure that the UK remains as close to the EU as possible, warning that “a loss of membership of the EU’s single market in services would be detrimental for many businesses and employees and result in a considerable adjustment for the UK economy”.

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While Vickery acknowledged that a drive towards raising young people’s skills through apprenticeships was a “step in the right direction”, he warned that it would take time for the next generation to hit the workforce “and restrictions to movement may well prevent UK businesses from benefiting from a global talent pool in the here and now”.

He added: “There is a risk that talent could leave or be poached from the UK as we enter into an extended period of limbo whilst the UK seeks to reinvent itself post-Brexit. Consultation with our members and students indicates that they are much more willing to work globally than ever before – we saw a spike in enquiries from British citizens looking to live and work in Australia, New Zealand and Canada in the weeks that followed the Brexit vote.

“Given the criteria for securing a working visa in those countries, it is certainly conceivable that it would be some of the UK’s more highly skilled workers who will be seeking opportunities in other parts of the world – thus potentially creating the beginnings of a brain drain.”

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Earlier this week, recruitment group Robert Half said the growing skills shortage was one of the key challenges facing businesses at it predicted that salaries for professional roles in finance and accounting, financial services, technology and administration would grow by 2.1 per cent next year.

“Competition for the best people is intensifying and… salaries for hard-to-fill roles continue to rise and outpace the average salary by a significant margin,” it said.

Vickery pointed out that skills shortages do not just impact on London-based multinationals, as they have a “profound” effect on Edinburgh’s financial sector and the likes of Aberdeen and Glasgow “whose local economies thrive from world-leading UK success in industries such as pharmaceuticals, IT, popular culture and design”.

He said: “An example is the higher education sector, where fears of loss of research funding may see UK universities struggling to attract or retain the best staff to carry out the research that drives knowledge discovery and supports the reputation of UK higher education through the international league tables.”

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