Brexit uncertainty could hinder digital sector development in the North East

A North East union which represents digital and creative businesses in the region has warned that sector growth could be at risk due to the lack of certainty on the status of EU nationals after Brexit.

This comes after a survey of skilled workers at FTSE 250 companies found that more than half were either ‘highly likely’ or ‘quite likely’ to leave the UK before the outcome of Brexit negotiations was known. The healthcare and digital & technology sectors were listed as potentially being the hardest hit.

But the digital sector was identified as one of the most prolific in our region, booming in certain parts of the North East. It has seen the greatest increase in employment since 2009 nationally, with Durham & Bishop Auckland, as well as Middlesbrough & Stockton, listed as the top two local economies in the country in terms of advanced industries growth (including digital).

(Source: Resolution Foundation report ‘A rising tide lifts all boats?’ published July 2017)

Rachel Peacock, Digital Union’s networks manager, told The Journal: “There are a substantial number of EU nationals within the creative digital sector who are significantly contributing to the growth and success of the sector and businesses within.

“With the skills shortage challenge being as prevalent as it already is, it’s crucial that businesses within the UK have access to the wider talent pool, as, without this, we are only creating further barriers.

“These highly skilled digital roles are more often than not, difficult to fill with UK nationals and until that changes with the further upskilling of our own domestic workforce, that issue is only going to worsen.”

Jude Kirton-Darling, Labour MEP for the North East, said: “The North East has long been renowned as a top manufacturing region, but it is important to also take into account the more recent industries thriving in these parts.  A digital sector on the rise is essential to the economy, but if some employees’ futures are at risk in our country, how will we be able to maintain its growth?

“These recent findings echo what others have shown before: people want to have clarity over their future and they don’t want to become bargaining chips in chaotic Brexit talks. This is yet another example of why Theresa May needs to put citizens first and secure the rights of EU nationals in the UK.”

Paul Brannen, Labour MEP for the North East, added: “These findings indicate the potential size of the skills gap our country will be faced with after Brexit, and some of our most important sectors could be the hardest hit. Will it take an EU workers’ exodus for the UK government to understand the challenges ahead if they don’t act now to guarantee their rights?

“Of course we need to make sure our own workforce is skilled for these jobs, but it is impossible for this to happen overnight. In the meantime, we must protect our economy, as well as the rights of our neighbours whose work contributes to it.”

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