Chris Moses: Lincolnshire’s at particular risk of skill shortages

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The latest CIPD Labour Market Outlook (LMO) survey found that 27% of UK Employers are losing workers, particularly those from the EU, with over 750,000 vacancies proving difficult to fill.

This is supported by figures from the Office of National Statistics (ONS), which found a 50% reduction in EU workers coming to the UK at the end of 2016, compared to the start of the year.

Lincolnshire could be particularly vulnerable to future skills shortages, due to the high level of low skill vacancies in agriculture, horticulture, care and hospitality within the county.

ONS figures for January 2017 found 45% of all vacancies are within these sectors, which since 2004 have had a high level of dependency on EU workers.

With current uncertainty over immigration control, the UK has become less attractive compared to the stability offered by other EU countries, such as Germany.

As a consequence, the problem for local employers has become a fairly immediate one, and not something that may or may not be dependent upon the outcome of future EU negotiations.

The options available appear to be either pay more to hang on to workers, or recruit UK nationals. For many businesses in Lincolnshire, the option of replacing their EU work force by employing UK nationals is not realistic.

First of all the county has a relatively limited number of work age people, and according to a recent presentation given by one large Lincolnshire horticultural employer, UK workers are very unreliable.

The option of increasing pay to attract more workers is also limited due to downward pressure on prices from customers. Large supermarkets are unwilling to increase what they pay to agricultural and horticultural producers, due to their competitive pressures.

Care providers have limited social care revenues to pay higher wages, and the hospitality sector would also struggle to increase prices to customers.

Problems for Lincolnshire employers could also be compounded following proposals by one government minister to impose a levy of £1,000 per annum on business for each EU worker they employ, similar to the non-EU worker levy which comes into effect in April.

A number of manufacturers have expressed an intention to move operations to main land Europe, to address skill shortages and avoid the risk of import / export tariffs, particularly those with a parent company based abroad.  Such an option does not exist for food producers or care providers.