Dezeen Magazine

Immigration cuts will damage UK's creative industries, study finds

If the UK government imposes stricter immigration controls after Brexit, it could spell disaster for London's design industry, according to a new study published by the Creative Industries Federation.

The organisation claims that limiting the number of workers entering the UK will cause a huge skills shortage for the UK's creative industries, which it describes as "the fastest growing part of the British economy".

"Securing talent is the biggest challenge facing the creative sector today and restricting immigration will make this even more difficult," said John Kampfner, chief executive of the Creative Industries Federation.

"EU workers currently contribute to the enormous success of Britain's arts and creative industries, including filling skills gaps not being met by our own education system. Cutting immigration will damage the capacity of the sector to grow and thrive."

The study, published earlier this week, surveyed Creative Industries Federation members about the makeup of their workforces.

Approximately 74 per cent of respondents said that limits on immigration would significantly reduce their capacity to do business.

Three-quarters of those surveyed said they already employ non-UK EU nationals, while 61 per cent use non-British freelancers – and the majority claimed these positions could not be filled with British workers.

But of all those surveyed, 80 per cent expect don't think the problem will improve in the next five years – during which Britain will leave the European Union, and its rules on free movement of workers are likely to change.

The report identifies visual effects and animation as areas where skills shortages will be most detrimental.

Kampfner has called for better training in the UK to help mitigate the effects of the shortage – although the results will not offer a quick fix.

"Brexit means we must overhaul our education system so that we produce more young people with the right mix of skills this country needs. If we don’t get this right, it is not just the creative industries that will lose out, but other 21st century sectors such as engineering, science and tech, to the detriment of the economy as a whole," he said.

"Many creative business are highly mobile and if they are not able to access the workers they need, the risk is they will relocate to places where they can."

London Design Festival director Ben Evans aired similar concerns during a press conference last month, when he said that London's status as a global centre for design would be severely threatened if strict immigration controls were enforced.

"You look at any design business or the leading design personalities in London, and most of them don't have a British passport, they've chosen to come and live and work in our city," he told Dezeen.

"If that migration slows or stops, we're in trouble. Our status as a creative city and a design city will evaporate, it will erode very very quickly."

A general election takes place in the UK tomorrow, 8 June 2017. The elected government will be responsible for negotiating the UK's Brexit deal.

The current Conservative government, led by Theresa May, claims the rights of EU nationals to live and work in the UK will remain unchanged until Britain has fully withdrawn from the European Union – a process expected to take approximately three years. But there have been no guarantees put in place to protect workers' rights following Britain's exit.

When the government released its industrial strategy earlier this year, it promised to put the creative industries at the heart of its plans to revive UK industry. However the 132-page document did not refer to directly to the country's architecture and design sector, which employs more than 1.5 million people – over six per cent of whom are non-EU workers.

Labour is the only political party to specifically mention the architecture, design and art industries in its election manifesto. It claims it will give the sectors a voice at the Brexit negotiating table.

A document released in addition to the manifesto echoed many of the points made in Dezeen's Brexit Design Manifesto, which was compiled shortly after the EU referendum in response to the concerns of many high-profile architects and designers.

"As Britain leaves the EU, Labour will put our world-class creative sector at the heart of our negotiations and future industrial strategy," said the party.

"We will get the right deal on issues like intellectual property, customs, access to investment, regulation, workforce and data protection to ensure our creative industries aren't shackled by Brexit."

More than 350 architects and designers signed the Brexit Design Manifesto, which identified ways the design sector can help the UK maintain its vibrancy after Brexit. Key areas covered include education, recognition, manufacturing and intellectual property.