British people need a major injection of skills to beat migrant workers to London jobs, according to leading commentators.
Research by employers’ group the CBI and professional services firm KPMG has found that two-thirds of companies expect skills shortages to be the biggest obstacle to growth in the first half of 2007. Half of those surveyed currently use people from other EU countries to plug skills gaps.
KPMG London senior partner Ian Barlow said: “While the influx of talent from outside the UK has been very welcome, we must do more to skill-up Londoners. It’s economically wasteful and morally wrong for there to be some 400,000 unemployed in the capital when there are so many jobs.”
Last week, Lord Sandy Leitch told the government that the UK faced a bleak future unless skills were increased.
And CBI director-general Richard Lambert agreed that school leavers and graduates must be given the skills they need to compete in the globalising world.
He said: “London is a vibrant city that attracts talented people from across the world, yet this survey lays bare the skills shortages that employers are facing. Firms will hire migrants to fill the gaps, but this is not a sustainable long-term solution.
London was described as an attractive city for business by respondents, and was highly rated for its employment opportunities and culture. But it fared badly on work-life balance, public services and value for money.
It measured up particularly poorly on transport infrastructure, with 75% of respondents saying London was worse than other cities, despite improvements to the Underground system and the bus network.
Supporting migrant workers is ‘depressing’ says minister
Building support in the UK for migrant workers is a depressing and difficult job, Liam Byrne, the Home Office’s immigration minister, has admitted.
“It is easy to get depressed being the immigration minister. I’m never short of advice and everyone has an opinion,” he said.
Byrne told union members at a TUC conference in London that immigration was fundamental to UK employers.
“Three in four people say they’re dissatisfied over immigration, but we know it’s brought enormous benefits to the country,” he said. “Half of the economy would grind to a halt without migration.”
The government estimated that some 15,000 migrant workers a year would arrive in the UK after the new accession states joined the EU in 2004. But more than 600,000 have since arrived here.
Byrne admitted that the influx of overseas workers had put a strain on the UK’s public services, adding: “Migrants move faster than ministers these days.”