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The Brexit white paper; a blank canvas for a new economic agenda?

Dr David Lutton, Executive Director of Policy, London First

David Lutton

As the long-awaited white paper landed today, what can we take from the government’s objectives on Brexit negotiations? Seemingly, not much more than we were offered before. What is reassuring, is the government’s willingness to consult with business and communities as it sets about unravelling a series of complex issues.

The number one concern for business is having the right mix of skills, experience and talent.

In London, which houses a great concentration of talent, this need is felt even more acutely. 55% of London’s population aged 21 and over is graduate level; significantly higher than any other major world city. In the coming years, London could face some tough challenges in accessing the talent it needs to grow. Business leadership will be crucial – the city needs to fill 250,000 vacancies a year for the next ten years just to meet current growth.

Resetting the immigration system

Naturally, we need to develop our local talent to fill skills gaps. Yet, even with this, we’ll still require a flexible visa policy that allows skilled migration into London, combined with a concerted effort to improve vocational training and adult education using newly acquired devolved powers and budgets.

The government’s white paper presents an opportunity to reset the UK’s immigration system. People underpin everything. We must create a welcoming, evidence-based visa regime for skilled workers.

If the government takes the wrong approach, the UK’s key job sectors will come unstuck one by one.  Construction, for example, is already facing severe skills shortages.  Cutting critical migrant labour now will put at risk a UK project pipeline worth over £500bn over the next four years.  This could cause great harm to both British jobs and the UK economy.

The London economy is deeply intertwined with that of the rest of the UK, and a key driver of growth nationwide. As we report in London 2036: An Agenda for Jobs and Growth, the capital generates a tax surplus of £34bn which helps support vital public investment. Its growth needs to be sustained for the benefit of the whole country, not just for Londoners.

What next?

London First will continue to provide a voice for business as the government presses ahead with Brexit. We’re currently producing an objective fact base on the role that both EU and non-EU citizens play in the London economy. The report analyses several public and private data sources to explore the role of migration in London’s key sectors, and how this correlates with our native workforce. Look out for more updates.

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