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Top UK businesses continuing to hire overseas leaders despite Brexit

25 Apr 2018 By Emily Burt

But uncertainty over future migration rules may see trend reversed as country becomes less attractive, say experts

Despite the potential limits that will be placed on foreign workers coming into the UK after it leaves the EU, FTSE 100 companies continue to source almost half of their external CEO appointments from outside the country, according to a new study.

Over the last three years, 47 per cent of external appointments to top leadership roles at leading businesses were international hires, Robert Half’s FTSE 100 CEO tracker revealed this week (23 April). 

Of the 14 new CEO hires in FTSE 100 companies made in the first three months of 2018 alone, eight were of UK heritage while six were appointed from global positions. 

Within the current FTSE 100, 17 CEOs have an EU background, while 22 come from elsewhere in the world. 

Charlie Grubb, UK managing director at Robert Half Executive Search, said that in times of economic uncertainty, UK companies can “only benefit” from taking an inclusive approach to hiring. 

“Globalisation is blurring geographic lines for mega-companies in the UK and abroad, and businesses with a global outlook will be tomorrow’s dominant players,” he said. 

“Even in times of economic uncertainty and change, the UK’s largest listed companies can only benefit from an inclusive, broad-minded and global approach to problem-solving. It is positive to see that this approach is also being addressed through succession planning.”

Jessica Pattinson, head of immigration at Dentons, told People Management that because of the global reach of FTSE firms, their leadership would be increasingly international. “When recruiting for their most important senior hires, FTSE companies need the flexibility to recruit the best talent, whether that is talent from the UK, Europe or further afield,” she said. 

However, she warned that the trend would not necessarily continue, particularly with ongoing uncertainties around Brexit. “Pre-Brexit, top talent from Europe found the UK an attractive destination to further their careers – whether this is true post-Brexit remains to be seen,” she said. 

“The prolonged period of uncertainty regarding citizens' rights, and the fact that free movement as we know it will come to an end, have made many reconsider the attractiveness of the UK.” 

Looking more broadly across roles and industries, EU immigration is dropping. For example, figures published today from the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) revealed that just 805 EU nurses and midwives joined its register between April 2017 and March 2018, compared with 6,382 the year before – a massive drop of 87 per cent.

It also reported a significant rise in the number of EU staff leaving the NMC register, with 3,962 EU nurses and midwives leaving during the same period – an increase of 29 per cent on the previous year. 

Ongoing falls in EU staff continue to increase pressure on industries reliant on international workers. 

For the sixth month running, last month the UK hit its cap on skilled Tier 2 migrants from non-EU countries, with reports that the government had turned down ‘thousands’ of applications from businesses. 

Simon Kenny, principal associate at Eversheds Sutherland, told People Management that without improved regulation the Tier 2 visa system could become “unmanageable”. 

“The required salary for a Tier 2 visa in April was £50,000 or above, reaching as high as £60,000 two months ago, and we would advise employers that this is unlikely to be lower in the next 11 months,” he said. 

“Unless quite fundamental changes are made to the ways Tier 2 certificates are allocated, this is going to be largely unregulated and we will see unpredictable impacts on resourcing caused by the policy.” 

With less than a year to go until the official ‘leaving’ date for the EU exit, an announcement last week from the National Audit Office (NAO) warned that “relatively small changes” in assumptions made about future events could drive the cost of Brexit higher than HM Treasury’s £35bn-£39bn ‘divorce bill’ estimate. 

The total amount the UK will pay in the financial settlement for leaving the EU was described as “reasonable” by the NAO, but remains an uncertain estimate, affected by “moving parts”. 

“The estimate reflects a number of moving parts, so the range of costs in it could have been wider than £35bn-£39bn,” Amyas Morse, head of the NAO, said. 

Factors such as ongoing settlement payments – in particular the UK’s contribution to the EU pension scheme, which may last until at least 2064 – present “risks and opportunities” to the total value the UK may be liable for. 

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