Industry pushes for post-Brexit assurances

Jason Ford - News Editor, The EngineerJason Ford, news editor

Sunderland should need no introduction as the home of Nissan in Britain. The company has been producing cars in the region since 1986 and employs around 6,800 staff, with considerably more in the supply chain.

Nissan Motor Manufacturing UK (NMUK) is described on the company’s website as being “the jewel in the crown of Nissan’s manufacturing presence in Europe”, and 80 per cent of its output is exported.

In December 2015, the Infiniti Q30 rolled off the production line in Sunderland following investment that created 300 jobs, and a decision is pending on where the Qashqai sport utility vehicle will be built.

This would involve building on the £3.5bn invested into the Sunderland plant, but June’s referendum result cast doubts over these plans, pending the result of Brexit negotiations.

According to a BBC report on October 14, 2016, Carlos Ghosn, Nissan’s chief executive, left a meeting with the PM on Friday confident that government will ensure Britain’s position as a competitive place to do business.

These sentiments are echoed today in a report published today by a coalition of professional engineering groups that represent over 450,000 engineers.

Led by the Royal Academy of Engineering, Engineering a future outside the EU: securing the best outcome for the UK has been designed to inform government of the key issues – people and skills, finance and markets, plus standards and legislation – that influence Britain’s engineering sector as it forms its position on leaving the EU.

In doing so, it hopes to protect and build on the engineering sector’s contribution of £280bn GVA to the economy, warning that Brexit should not hinder skilled engineers from the EU contributing to the success of Britain’s engineering sector.

The report notes that uncertainty about the status of EU workers in the UK is likely to result in delays to major infrastructure projects such as HS2, Thames Tideway and Hinkley Point C, which will face recruitment difficulties and increasing costs if demand for labour outstrips supply.

To remedy this, the report suggests that government and industry embark on a series of actions, including the development of a Shortage Occupation List for positions that cannot be filled domestically in the short term. The report also calls on the UK government to extend procedures for intra-company transfers to cover EU citizens.

Furthermore, the report warns that losing access to EU research and innovation funding programmes would pose a ‘considerable risk to the quality and quantity of UK research and innovation, and in turn to UK GDP.’

As such, the report recommends that government seeks ‘the closest achievable association with relevant EU programmes, and if needed develop long-term funding streams that complement current funding by encouraging international mobility and collaboration, particularly between industry and academia.’

Prof Dame Ann Dowling OM DBE FREng FRS, President of the Royal Academy of Engineering said: “For many we have consulted over the last two months, plans to trigger Article 50 raise questions about our ability to train enough skilled engineers to meet the country’s needs, to attract the brightest and best international talent to the UK to address specific skills shortages, and to collaborate with colleagues in non-UK European Union countries in a way that accelerates innovation that is of value to wider society.

“As government develops its plans for a renewed focus on industrial strategy, we hope it will use this opportunity to build on the UK’s existing strengths in engineering research, innovation and industry to grow their contribution to economic and social progress, and to invest in increasing the supply of skilled engineers necessary to sustain this growth.”