June 17, 2017 by Paul Goldsmith
Just after last year’s referendum, a friend of mine commented that the Leave campaign had ‘missed a trick’ with their bus. Instead of £350m a week to be spent on the NHS, it should have been £350m a week to spend on education and training he thought. After all, we had just put ourselves in a position where we would need it more than ever.
One of the consequences of not being able to draw upon an endless supply of more skilled and cheaper workforce from outside Britain (should we choose to ‘control’ our immigration) is that employers, and this includes the government, will need to find a skilled workforce from within.
How will that happen? Well to answer that I take you back to a conversation I had with the MD of a large recruitment company, who was lamenting the 250,000 vacancies his company had on their books. He suggested that he couldn’t fill them as they weren’t paying enough, were not good enough working conditions, and not located down the road from the people who might fill them.
Brexit, he thought, would make this problem worse. Or maybe it wouldn’t. Because he was willing to admit that perhaps the inability to rely upon an uncontrolled inflow of cheap labour every year from abroad would mean that employers in the UK would decide to pay more, provide better working conditions and locate nearer sources of labour.
Taking this further, people often say that without immigrants we wouldn’t be able to run the NHS. But it is, again, the ability to call on an uncontrolled supply of skilled labour, and a labour force happy to work for lower pay and in worse working conditions than a British workers that could be what leads to a situation in which the NHS relies on immigrant labour. Maybe controlled immigration might lead to higher pay, better working conditions and a need to spend more on training British workers.
That would require a lot of public and private money to be spent, and a starting point would be the money repatriated from the EU, on lifelong education and training for the British population, so that they can take advantage of the opportunities that might possibly be provided by Brexit.
I’m not saying that reducing immigration will be definitely good for the economy overall. Almost every independent report produced suggests that immigration has benefited the UK. But there are people all over the country who it hasn’t benefitted. The Leave vote is partly explained by their frustrations over this. But for it to actually solve their problems, they need to be helped to lift their game. Unlike the previous time that expectation happened, the Government will need to help.