More than half of UK businesses say they have not experienced any difficulties retaining European staff since the decision to leave the EU, a survey has found, a finding that may help allay concerns Brexit would lead to an exodus of employees.
However, businesses are still reporting concern about sourcing future talent from Europe, with experts warning much will depend on how heavy-handed any post-Brexit immigration system proves.
Of almost 500 senior business professionals polled, 56 per cent said so far they had not seen any greater difficulty retaining their European staff than before the Brexit vote.
By contrast, less than a quarter (22 per cent) said they had experienced problems, with the rest (21 per cent) unsure.
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But the survey, conducted by recruitment firm Reed, found businesses were still affected by the uncertainty caused by the referendum, with 32 per cent saying access to EU workers was the biggest Brexit-related concern for their organisation.
More than two-thirds (67 per cent) said they had not received enough advice or support from the government about Brexit and 71 per cent said they supported a delay to Brexit.
Chris Adcock, director of Reed HR, said businesses had been paying close attention to the Brexit process, but it was clear they still needed more information to decide what preparations to make.
“With talented people still the bedrock of any successful company, it is of some comfort that there hasn’t yet been a mass exodus of EU talent,” he said. “But in order to prevent that from happening after we leave the EU, businesses are asking for a deal which gives access to EU workers.”
Gerwyn Davies, senior labour market analyst at the CIPD, told People Management official employment data, which remained relatively stable, had defied “gloomy expectations and forecasts that we would see a ‘Brexidous’ effect”.
But he added the sourcing of future talent from Europe would depend on the administrative model the government adopted – the current settled status system for EU nationals was very light-touch compared to the bureaucratic and expensive non-EU visa system. “If they simply extend the existing [non-EU], system you can certainly sympathise with that high level of anxiety,” said Davies.
Davies added that non-Brexit related factors – including the strengthening of labour markets in countries such as Poland and Romania – were contributing to EU migrants leaving the UK.
“It will still feel like something of a shock to employers given that we saw annual increases of EU nationals in employment of 200,000 a year, which has fallen to zero almost overnight. So you can see why employers certainly perceive there’s been a big shift – although that probably has as much to do with pre-Brexit trends as much as Brexit.”
Separately today, figures from the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) suggested the number of nurses and midwives registered in the UK had increased by around 8,000 over the last 12 months despite a drop in the number of nurses arriving from EU countries.
The data, which tracked registrations from 1 April 2018 to 31 March 2019, showed that as well as a net increase of 5,000 in the number of UK-trained nurses and midwives, the number of non-EU nationals registering to work in the UK for the first time increased 126 per cent, from 2,720 last year to 6,157.
By contrast, the number of nursing and midwifery professionals from EU countries declined for the second year. From a peak of 38,024 in 2017, their numbers have dropped by nearly 5,000 (13 per cent) over the last two years to 33,035.
Andrea Sutcliffe, chief executive and registrar at the NMC, said it was encouraging to see the increase in nursing staff was being driven by professionals from both the UK and overseas.
But she added: “We only have to look at the well-documented concerns around high vacancy and turnover rates that exist right across health and social care to know there’s a long way to go before we have all the people we need to ensure the best and safest care for everyone.
“And while there has been a drop in the number of people leaving the register, our survey fires yet another warning shot – that the pressures nurses and midwives face are real and must be taken seriously if we are to properly attract, support and retain the workforce that we need now and for the future.”
In response to the data, Sue Covill, director of development and employment at NHS Employers, said it was important the UK developed an immigration system that was “responsive and agile” and measured public sector value as a key factor instead of simply salary levels.
“Additionally, as the health service continues to suffer from a severe workforce shortage, any suggestion that nurses and midwives are being driven away from their jobs by stress or mental health issues should be cause for alarm,” she said.
However, Davies said the drop in the number of EU nurses seen by the NMC probably said more about the challenges faced by the NHS’s overstretched resources than Brexit.
“It’s an issue that’s affecting UK-born doctors and nurses as well as EU citizens,” he said.
“Looking ahead, one hopes that the injection of additional money that is coming through will help some of those challenges to a certain extent, but this is a historical problem that the NHS has faced which seemed to have reached a peak very recently, and one hopes that we will be getting over that peak.”