Small firms raise fresh Brexit fears over EU workers

The Federation of Small Businesses found two-thirds of Scotland's small firms with EU workers were worried about future skills shortages. Picture: John Devlin
The Federation of Small Businesses found two-thirds of Scotland's small firms with EU workers were worried about future skills shortages. Picture: John Devlin
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Small businesses in Scotland and across the UK have raised fresh concerns about the impact of Brexit on employing EU workers, reinforcing calls for such staff to be allowed to stay, according to research published today.

The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) found that two-thirds of Scottish small employers with EU workers are worried about future skills shortages.

Smaller Scottish employers don’t have the resources to navigate complex immigration systems

Andy Willox

A quarter said they currently have a member of staff from the union, higher than the UK rate of one in five, and rising to two in five in the Highlands.

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Overall, respondents north of the Border said nearly half of smaller tourism and leisure firms have EU workers, with a similar proportion saying they mainly employ people in roles requiring specialist skills or training. The FSB, which has 186 branches, said Scottish businesses depend on EU workers being given the right to remain here after the UK leaves Europe.

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Additionally, the research revealed steps Scottish small employers would consider if Brexit creates more barriers to recruiting EU citizens. About a third said they would ponder reducing operations and roughly a fifth would look at closing their business. The small business campaign group also said nine in ten Scottish firms hired their EU workers when they were already living in the UK, while 95 per cent of UK small firms said they had not used the UK’s points-based immigration system to hire non-EU workers.

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.”

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FSB is also recommending changes to the Scottish skills and education system to try to stem the impact of any immigration changes.

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

FSB chairman Mike Cherry said: “EU workers are a vital part of our economy, helping to plug chronic skills gaps across a wide range of sectors, and filling jobs in an already-tight labour market.

“From packers to mechanics to graphic designers, small employers need to be able to hire the right person for the right job at the right time.”

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