Large infrastructure firms will consider moving jobs from UK if single market access not maintained, says consultancy and engineering business group

Nearly a quarter of large consultancy and engineering firms say they will consider moving jobs out of the UK if Brexit makes it more difficult to move staff around Europe.

Leading business group, the Association for Consultancy and Engineering (ACE), made the claim following a survey of its members which revealed that Brexit is casting a shadow over the UK construction industry, with the consultancy and engineering sector set to be hit hard if access to the European single market is not maintained after the UK leaves the EU.

Continued unfettered access to EU skilled nationals is vital to consultancy and engineering firms, many of whom will be designing and engineering some of the UK’s major infrastructure projects like HS2, Hinkley Point C and Heathrow Airport’s third runway. New research by ACE has revealed that 22% of large consultancy firms will consider moving jobs out of the UK if it becomes more difficult to move staff around Europe, potentially moving thousands of posts out of the country and jeopardising the delivery of major UK infrastructure projects.

The government has already been made aware that the UK construction industry as a whole could lose more than 175,000 EU workers – or 8% of the sector’s workforce – if the country does not retain access to the European single market after Brexit. As serious as these figures are, they do not show the true magnitude of the impact on the industry as each sector is affected differently.

Hence the ACE research, which was conducted in conjunction with leading UK law firm Penningtons Manches, to clarify the contribution made to the consultancy and engineering sector by EU nationals.

An ACE report, The Effect of EU Migration on the UK Consultancy and Engineering Sector Post Brexit, for the first time compiles data on the impact of EU migration on the sector. ACE chief executive Nelson Ogunshakin, said:

“The report paints a worrying picture and we will be using its contents in our discussions with the independent Migration Advisory Committee to help strengthen our arguments with hard data from member firms.

“It is essential that we make ministers aware of the numbers of EU nationals working in consultancy and engineering firms so that we can better inform government policy making and highlight the difficulties the sector will encounter in recruitment and retention in a post-Brexit world.”

The report was launched at an ACE parliamentary reception at the House of Commons on 8 November and shows that UK consultancy and engineering firms are highly dependent on EU workers to deliver the UK’s ongoing infrastructure pipeline.

The key highlights of the report are:

  • Continued unfettered access to EU skilled nationals is of high importance to consulting engineering firms
  • The robustness of the UK infrastructure pipeline is key to staff retention in the UK following Brexit
  • 22% of large consultancy firms will consider moving jobs out of the UK if it becomes more difficult to move staff around Europe
  • On average 10% of consultancy and engineering firms’ staff are from EU member states which is higher than the construction industry average of 6%
  • 67% of EU staff work in London and the south east which is higher than the industry average
  • UK workers in the sector are younger than the industry average
  • EU nationals are younger than their UK counterparts
  • 83% of EU nationals in consultancy and engineering firms are aged 30-39 which makes them older then the industry average.
  • EU nationals have been used to help manage the UK’s engineering skills gap
  • 50% of EU nationals are fee earners
  • Continued recognition of UK qualifications will be important to EU nationals’ retention

Ogunshakin said:

“People are at the heart of our industry and without them we have no businesses. Anything that impacts on the ability of consultancy and engineering firms to hire the best and most talented staff will impact on the ability of the sector to compete globally and efficiently deliver the UK infrastructure pipeline.

“Infrastructure is the key enabler of growth and the driver of the UK economy improving peoples’ lives and our national prosperity. Our report highlights the crucial importance of EU nationals to our industry and the necessity of ensuring that consultancy and engineering firms continue to have unfettered access to EU staff following Brexit.”