Pressure is mounting on both the UK and EU negotiators to make progress on a deal. And with the next round of talks starting in Brussels on Thursday, the Confederation of British Industry has taken the opportunity to hammer home the importance of retaining essential workers.
It’s an issue that could have a big impact of supply chain and logistics operations. And the CBI report, “Open and Controlled”, highlights the fact that 25 per cent of the workers in UK warehouses are EU nationals – some 113,000 people – a figure first put forward by the Freight Transport Association.
In addition, EU nationals make up 14 per cent (43,000) of large goods vehicle drivers, and 22 per cent (19,000) of forklift drivers. The CBI report points out that there is a shortage now of 52,000 LGV drivers, while 63 per cent of all HGV drivers are 45 or over, and 14 per cent of LGV drivers are due to retire over the next five years.
“Continued access to EU workers is needed to avoid serious disruptions to supply chains and the cost of home deliveries rising,” it warns. And it’s not just logistics – the CBI report highlights similar issues in other industry sectors as well.
In parallel with the CBI report, is the latest quarterly Labour Market Outlook from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development which highlights the fact that 50 per cent of companies in transport and storage now have hard to fill vacancies – the highest of any industry sector.
The CIPD also found that demand for staff is particularly strong in transport and storage at the moment – net employment intentions over the next three months is +38 per cent – that compares to +23 for the economy as a whole.
The CBI argues that government policy should shift from simply trying to cut the number of people coming into the UK, to a system that ensures that migrants are contributing to society and the economy.
Last week trade minister Liam Fox claimed that there was now a 60 per cent chance that the UK would leave the EU without a deal. Such talk is clearly a negotiating gambit – nevertheless the risks to supply chains are real.
The next few months are going to be critical. Industry needs to continue to press for the best possible solution – but also plan for the worst.