Business leaders write to May over availability of labour in Northern Ireland

A group of business leaders have united to urge the British Prime Minister to act over what they have termed severe labour shortages in Northern Ireland.

The letter, signed by the leaders of 21 UK business groups – including the Confederation of British Industry and Federation of Small Businesses, say shrinking numbers of European workers are critically affecting the daily operations of many businesses in the region.

The business organisations have written to Theresa May, as well as Home Secretary Sajid Javid and Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley, requesting an urgent solution to a problem which they say could lead to the demise of many key industries.

Trevor Lockhart, chair of CBI NI, said since the Brexit referendum, the number of European Economic Area workers in Northern Ireland has fallen by 26%.

He said that has added further pressure to an already tight labour market.

“This is having a major impact on industry here, affecting in particular the food processing, hospitality, and construction sectors,” he said.

“We need access to non-EU workers to fill low-skilled positions as an immediate priority, as well as a strategy to address gaps in higher-skills across various sectors.

“We have asked the Home Office to recognise the need for regional flexibility to resolve the challenges faced by the sector.”

Mr Lockhart also urged a deal between the UK and the EU ahead of Brexit.

“We need the UK and the EU to reach a Brexit deal,” he said.

“That is crucial to Northern Ireland’s economic success and viability.

“One of the undertakings identified in the December 2017 joint report by the UK and EU Brexit negotiators was to ensure that any deal reached would not disadvantage Northern Ireland’s economic interest. That was a commitment.

“However, there is now grave concern within the business community that in a ‘No-deal’ situation, the UK government would not be bound by these special undertakings, and Northern Ireland would suffer as a result.

“We are engaging with our local politicians, urging them to recognise the significance of this threat to our economy and wider society, and calling on them to exert their influence on the Government at this critical time.”

The letter has been signed by CBI NI, Centre for Competitiveness, Construction Employers Federation, Federation of Master Builders, Federation of Small Businesses Northern Ireland, Freight Transport Association, Hospitality Ulster, Manufacturing NI, Londonderry Chamber of Commerce, Newry Chamber of Commerce, NI Chamber of Commerce & Industry, NI Hotels Federation, NI Pork and Bacon Forum, Northern Ireland Bakery Council, Northern Ireland Food and Drink Association, Northern Ireland Grain Trade Association, Northern Ireland Meat Exporters Association, Northern Ireland Tourism Alliance, Quarry Products Association Northern Ireland, Retail NI, Manufacturing Northern Ireland

and the Ulster Farmers’ Union.- Press Association

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