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FSB warns of Brexit threat

Small firms at risk from bar on EU migrants

Andy WilloxScotland’s small firms are more vulnerable to a Brexit bar on foreign workers than those in the rest of the UK, according to a new survey.

A quarter (26%) of small firms north of the border employ someone from elsewhere in the EU, compared to a fifth of UK firms. The figure rises to two in five (41%) in the Highlands.

The FSB says the data shows it is vital for Scottish businesses that EU workers are given the right to remain in the country after the UK leaves the EU.

Mike Cherry, FSB national chairman, said: “There is real concern among small firms with EU staff that they will lose access to the skills and labour their business needs to survive and grow.

“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.”

The data is included in A skilful exit: What small firms want from Brexit, a research paper on the impact of leaving the EU. A Scottish version of the report has been published.

Firms have said that if Brexit creates additional barriers to recruiting EU citizens, 37% of Scottish small employers would consider reducing operations while a fifth (19%) would close their business and 12% would move their business abroad. 

Nine in ten Scottish firms (89%) recruited their EU workers when they were already living in the UK. And the vast majority of UK small firms (95%) have no experience of using the UK’s points-based immigration system to recruit non-EU workers. 

Almost half (45%) of Scottish smaller businesses in the tourism and leisure sector have an EU worker.

However, a similar proportion of smaller firms with EU workers say they mainly employ people with mid-level skills, positions which require specialist skills or training.

Andy Willox (pictured), FSB’s Scottish policy convener, 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.”

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

Mr Willox said: “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.”

Callum McCaig, SNP spokesman 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.”

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