Research by Unite, the UK’s largest union, has revealed that the government is failing to work with and direct key industries in overcoming the highly complex challenges involved in leaving the European Union.
The government's 'hands off' approach is likely to jeopardise investment, jobs and the skills the economy needs, Unite warns.
The concerns are voiced ahead of the Brexit debate (Sunday 10 September) at this year's TUC Congress in Brighton, where Unite's general secretary Len McCluskey will warn that a Tory Brexit puts jobs at risk.
The union says that responses it has obtained under the freedom of information provisions suggest that the government has, as yet, no plan for the economy once the UK exits the European Union, preferring to leave it to industry to dictate.
Unite asked a series of Freedom of Information (FoI) questions to four different government departments, concerning the following sectors: construction, food processing, agriculture, aerospace, chemicals, manufacturing, higher education and finance.
All of these sectors contain a significant number of European migrant workers. Unite asked “what assessment or estimate has been made of how many non-UK workers are currently required?” and “what assessment or estimate has been made of how many non-UK workers will be required for the first five years after the UK exits the European Union?”
None of the departments were able to answer the questions.
The Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy which is responsible for the aerospace, chemicals, construction and manufacturing sectors stated: “Industry is best placed to estimate its future skills needs.”
Unite General Secretary Len McCluskey said: “These responses are worrying indeed. Of course industry has a key role in advising on its labour needs but government should not be taking a backseat when it comes to key industrial sectors.
"These answers give further cause to be concerned that the government has no clear vision for the UK out of the EU.
“Preserving jobs and maintaining our industrial sectors should be at the heart of the Brexit process, and that message is not coming loud and clear from the government.
“The idea that industry is best placed to estimate and tackle its future skills needs is not tenable. Business's priority is not the national interest but profits and shareholders' return.
"Brexit is the most complex political issue that the UK has had to contend with in the last 50 years. That is why the government must be providing direction and clarity on the sort of economy and country we seek to be. The present hands-off approach, however, is far from a plan; it's an abdication of responsibility.
Unite also asked the Department of BEIS and the Treasury how many ‘letters of assurance’ relating to Brexit have been issued in the aerospace, automotive, chemicals and finance sectors. Both departments replied that they do not hold such information.
Mr McCluskey added: “We urge the government to set out now what its aims for industry are and not to keep workers in the dark.”
"Jobs and investment are on the line here, and there is a still uncertainty about our place in the single market and within a customs union as the Conservative party continues to wrestle with itself on this.
"The UK leaves the EU in a little more than 18 months’ time. Working people urgently need to know that their interests and the national interest trumps the internal divisions within the Tory party."
Notes to Editors:
Unite’s BrexitCheck website can be found at www.unitebrexitcheck.org
The departments contacted by Unite were Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, The Treasury, the Department for Education and the Department for the Environment Food, Fisheries and Rural Affairs
Responses from Government departments on the question of future need for EU migration workers included: “the department does not hold any information that you have requested” or “the information that you have requested is not held” by the department or the department admitted they were relying on the Migration Advisory Committee’s government commission report on EU-migration which will not be published until towards the end of 2018 (just weeks before the UK is due to leave the European Union).
The BEIS response on the question of letters of assurance was: “The department does not hold any information that you have requested”, revealing that there are no such letters in existence.
The Treasury response regarding letters of assurance relating to Brexit for banks, financial organisations and hedge funds. replied: “We have interpreted your reference to ‘letters of assurance’ to mean letters which give specific concrete assurances, as opposed to high-level, non-committal letters that simply repeat public lines. I can confirm that HM Treasury does not hold information within the scope…….of your request”.
For more information please contact Unite communications officer Barckley Sumner on 020 3371 2067 or 07802 329235.
Twitter: @unitetheunion Facebook: unitetheunion1 Web: unitetheunion.org
Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest trade union with over 1.4 million members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey.