Brexit deal 'won’t be worth the paper it’s written on' if British firms cannot recruit staff, BCC warns

The leading business group also called for the status of EU nationals to be protected and for an immigration system that was

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The Independent Online

Brexit negotiations shouldn’t divert the UK government’s attention from the challenges businesses are facing at home, the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) has warned.

The BCC said the best Brexit deal "won't be worth the paper it's written on" if British firms cannot recruit staff with the required skills.

A report from the business group last month found that 86 per cent of UK manufacturing firms and 59 per cent of service firms are seeking to expand but, the majority can’t find the right people leading to a squeeze that threatens to damage the economy. 

The business group, in its election manifesto, on Tuesday, said the General Election "should not and must not" focus on Brexit alone.

The next government must deliver a “bold and clear strategy” to support economic growth across all regions and nations of the UK, the BCC added.

The group is calling on the next government to focus on five key areas: business environment, Brexit, local growth, infrastructure and trade, to support economic growth across the UK.

It has also called for the status of EU nationals living in the UK to be protected and for an immigration system that was responsive to economic needs and  to skills shortages at all levels.

“While businesses all across the UK want a good Brexit deal, they are very clear that decisions taken here at home matter as much – if not more – to our future growth prospects.  The best possible Brexit deal won’t be worth the paper it’s written on if firms cannot recruit and train the right people, get decent digital connectivity, or get their goods to their market, ” Adam Marshall, director general of the BCC, said.

“Westminster must stop and reverse the relentless increases in the up-front cost of doing business in Britain, and give firms the confidence to drive investment, job growth and exports through the Brexit transition and beyond,” he added.

The BCC’s manifesto echoes a similar warning from the Federation of Master Builders (FMB) which on Tuesday called on all major political parties to recognise the importance of migrant labour to the construction sector as part of its "Programme for Government".

Brian Berry, chief executive of the FMB, said: “The UK construction sector’s demand for skilled migrant workers from the EU and beyond cannot be overstated. In London alone, there are more than 157,000 non-UK construction workers constituting almost half of the industry’s workforce in the capital. Pre-Brexit, 60% of small construction firms are already having trouble hiring bricklayers and that’s before the UK abandons the free movement of people.

"If the next Government implements an inflexible immigration system that hinders the ability of talented foreign construction workers from making their way to the UK, any manifesto pledges relating to the delivery of housing and infrastructure will be rendered meaningless.”

The news will pile further pressure on the future government to reassure companies that they will have access to the skills they need after Brexit.

Official figures released last month revealed that EU nationals make up 7 per cent of the UK workforce. The Office for National Statistics said migrant labour was particularly important for the retail, hospitality, public administration and health sectors.