East Anglian business leaders call for action as EU migrant workforce plummets
- Credit: Sonya Duncan
The number of European Union (EU) workers coming to East Anglia to take up jobs has fallen since Brexit, official figures suggest, prompting fears of looming gaps in the regional workforce.
Across Suffolk and north Essex, local authorities have recorded falls across the board as increasing numbers of EU nationals from eastern Europe look for work elsewhere, with some seeing dramatic falls of a third or more.
Regional business leaders warned action needed to be taken “sooner rather than later” to secure a stable workforce.
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) figures show that since the Brexit vote, EU workforce numbers have plummeted by between 7% and 35% in local authorities across Suffolk and north Essex.
In the 12 months to March of this year, 2,132 EU citizens registered for National Insurance numbers in Ipswich, a fall of 189 (8%) on the month the referendum was held, while St Edmundsbury saw a steeper decline, with 541 people registered this year, compared to 676 during the referendum vote, representing a 20% fall. In Colchester, 1,102 people registered in the 12 months to March of this year, a 32% drop from the 1,625 in the year to June 2016.
It was a similar picture across Suffolk, with Suffolk Coastal recording a 7% drop to 478, Babergh a 34% fall to 149, Forest Heath a decrease of 26% from 598, Mid Suffolk a 22% fall to 167 people and Waveney a 31% drop to 204.
In Essex, Braintree saw a 35% fall to 394 registered, Tendring a 12% decrease to 307 and Uttlesford a 16% fall to 365.
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Across most authorities, the biggest drop in new workers was by ‘EU8’ citizens, or those from nations such as Poland and the Czech Republic. However, in Babergh, it was ‘EU2’ nationals, from Romania and Bulgaria, and in Mid Suffolk, the biggest fall was in ‘EU15’ workers or those that joined before 2004, such as France, Spain and Germany.
However, five of the authorities - Colchester, Ipswich, Forest Heath, Tendring and Suffolk Coastal - saw rises in the numbers of non-EU citizens seeking NI numbers while the rest saw declines.
Justice secretary David Gawke has said prisoners could fill the role that migrant workers have left behind.
Suffolk Chamber spokesman Paul Simon said the tightening in the supply of workers from the EU was “likely to be a cause of concern” for a number of businesses in certain sectors, most especially agriculture, construction, horticulture, health and manufacturing.
The chamber is supporting calls for the Seasonal Agricultural Workers’ Scheme (SAWS) to be reinstated “as a matter of urgency” for the horticulture and agriculture sectors and has met with MPs to impress the need to ensure a supply of workers.
David Burch, director of policy at Essex Chambers of Commerce, said the issue was being raised more frequently by employers, especially in the hospitality and food production and processing sectors. “Some of them are heavily reliant on such employees and cannot easily source alternative workers from within the UK,” he said. “We need to see action from the government sooner rather than later.”
New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) chief executive Chris Starkie said a ready supply of skilled workers is vital “if we are to achieve our ambitions for economic growth and success in Suffolk and Norfolk”.
“This was clearly highlighted in the report ‘The potential implications of Brexit for Norfolk and Suffolk’ commissioned by the LEP with Suffolk and Norfolk County Councils and published earlier this year, and drives much of our work to improve the skills offer in our region – for example the bid for an Eastern Institute of Technology.
“The LEP continues to remind Government of the importance of a skilled and flexible workforce, whether it is sourced from the UK or abroad.”