'Hull's jobs depend on guarantee of free-trade', warn business leaders

By Hull Daily Mail | Posted: 30 Mar 2017

The region's future growth and prosperity could be at risk unless a post-Brexit deal is thrashed out that enables the free movement of skilled labour.

This was the warning from business leaders, who say the Humber's economy depends on workers from both sides of the continent.

The region employs thousands of people in food production, agriculture and manufacturing – three of the industries predicted to being particularly hard hit by post-Brexit policy and uncertainty.

Dr Ian Kelly, chief executive of the Hull and Humber Chamber of Commerce, said: "In our part of the world, the majority of the public voted in favour of Brexit.

"We did not take a formal survey of local businesses, but one can imagine this partially reflects the view of the public.

Read more: A guide to what Article 50 is and how Brexit will affect you

"Most local businesses will be looking for a positive process of negotiation that allows good relations with our trading partners, but which also captures the prime minister's motive of new opportunities and great global nation.

"As the fifth largest economy in the world, we have nothing to be frightened of, but we wish industries in which this area employs a significant number of European workers, such as food and agriculture, benefit from and are taken into account during negotiations."

Mike Cherry, chairman at the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), said securing a deal that enabled businesses to employ the right skills was vital.

He said: "Access to the right skills at the right time is crucial for the success of a small business. A fifth of FSB members with staff employ non-UK EU citizens – workers that are vital to the UK economy.

"The right to remain for these non-UK EU citizens must be guaranteed at the earliest opportunity to provide reassurance to smaller firms and their workforces."

Read more: Here's what politicians in Hull are saying about Article 50

With figures suggesting eight per cent of construction workers are EU nationals, Rics (Royal Institute of Chartered surveyors) warned large infrastructure project could grind to a halt unless agreements were put in place to ensure free movement of labour.

Jeremy Blackburn, Rics' head of UK policy, said: "A loss of access to the European labour market has the potential to slowly bring some of the biggest infrastructure projects to a standstill.

"It is essential now that Government and industry work together to get the best deal possible ."

Paul Drechsler, president of the CBI, echoed calls for barrier-free trade.

He said: "Our shared aim must be to forge a mutually beneficial deal that delivers barrier-free trade and safeguards prosperity for all.

"Most welcome of all would be the immediate guarantee of the right to remain for EU citizens here and UK nationals in Europe, which all governments agree is desirable.

"Business has a crucial role to play in making the economic case as the negotiations progress so we can be clear about the impact on real people and jobs."

While many were quick to highlight the risks of a post-Brexit economy, Gill Dillon, employer and partnership manager at Department for Work and Pensions in Hull, said it presented good opportunities for Humber employers and employees to think outside of the box.

She said: "Businesses are reviewing their recruitment needs and thinking about what might happen in the future.

"This could present an opportunity for businesses to look at different ways of recruiting and offer the chance for people who might previously have struggled to get an interview to get into new kinds of jobs.

"Any employer that is worried about recruiting can come to us and we will work with them, to help them find the skills they need."



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