Brexit report raises labour shortage fears for Norfolk and Suffolk

A bad post-Brexit trade deal with the European Union would hit Norfolk and Suffolk's vital food and

A bad post-Brexit trade deal with the European Union would hit Norfolk and Suffolk's vital food and farming industry, according to a New Anglia LEP report. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN - Credit: Archant

Shortages of labour and materials could hit the economies of Suffolk and Norfolk if Brexit talks go sour, a business report looking at challenges and opportunities says.

East of England Co-op joint chief executive Doug Field, who is chair of the New Anglia LEP food, dri

East of England Co-op joint chief executive Doug Field, who is chair of the New Anglia LEP food, drink and agriculture board. Picture: CONTRIBUTED - Credit: Archant

The study, which looks at the potential implications of Brexit on Norfolk and Suffolk’s key economic sectors, also points out that the funding hole created from leaving the European Union will need to be filled.

“It is vital for the region that the UK Government achieves a favourable trade deal with the EU post 2019,” the report, commissioned by New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) and Norfolk and Suffolk County Councils, says.

It points out the importance of farming and food production to the counties, and says this is “a key area of concern for the region”.

“The Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) heavily subsidises farming, without which many farms would close, severely damaging the rural economy,” it warns.

Arguably the most significant impact of Brexit on the counties will be on the local labour force.

Lower skilled jobs in agriculture, manufacturing and construction, often filled by EU labour will be difficult to fill domestically, and the region will need to market itself to attract and retain staff, it concludes.

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“It will be important to retain the current workforce as far as possible,” it says.

Outside the EU, trade barriers are likely to hit Norfolk and Suffolk’s agricultural and food exports, where tariffs are typically very high, as both counties export “a good deal of goods” to the EU.

In order to remain competitive, the UK is likely to have to continue conforming to many EU laws, policies and regulations, it adds.

“The region will inevitably have to adjust economically,” the report, which sets out detailed impacts on six sectors that are particularly exposed to Brexit in Norfolk and Suffolk - Agriculture, Manufacturing, Construction, Offshore wind energy, Digital and Life Sciences, says.

LEP chair Doug Field said the report highlighted some of the potential challenges of Brexit, including for funding and investment. “We know that Brexit will have a significant impact,” he said. “The report’s findings underline the priority themes identified in the new Economic Strategy for Norfolk and Suffolk.”

Steve Britt, a leading business advocate of Brexit and managing director of Anchor Storage based near Debenham, said: “This report states the obvious: some sectors of the regional economy are more exposed than others to this country becoming a truly global trading nation.

“However, the potential upside is greater rather than lesser. For those sectors, such as agriculture, where there are legitimate concerns about seasonal labour supply, the solution lies in our own hands.

“It is vital that the government stops dithering and reintroduces a Seasonal Agricultural Workers’ scheme immediately that guarantees access to EU and non-EU labour for our successful agricultural and horticultural businesses.

“Having control over our own policies means we can be more adaptable to the British economy’s needs than ever before. Nothing is fixed in stone.

“The UK’s new trading arrangements will depend on what attitude we wish to take. A confident and correct approach would be for us to declare ‘Unilateral Free Trade’ based on the recognition of mutual standards with other countries wishing to participate.”