Potential shortage of EU migrant labour in Norfolk laid bare in new figures

EU migration is particularly important for sectors like agriculture. Picture: Sonya Duncan

EU migration is particularly important for sectors like agriculture. Picture: Sonya Duncan - Credit: Sonya Duncan

The number of people coming from the EU to work in Norfolk has fallen by a fifth since the EU referendum, new figures reveal.

While some areas have been impacted more than others by the fall in economic migration, each district in the county has seen a decrease in the number of successful applications for National Insurance (NI) numbers – needed to work and claim benefits – by EU citizens.

Data from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) shows the total number of applications across the nine local authority areas in the year to March 2018 was 6,698 – 20% lower than the 8,377 received in the 12 months before the EU referendum in June 2016.

Worries among agricultural businesses that Brexit would stem their flow of seasonal workers have been justified, with Waveney and Fenland seeing some of the largest drops in applications (30% and 16% respectively).

The shortage of migrant labour has hit some food producers so hard that they are putting investment plans on hold due to the uncertainty over staffing.

READ MORE: 'If I don't have these workers, I don't have a business' – Norfolk farmers urge ministers to protect seasonal EU workforce

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Urban areas also took a hit, with the number of applications dropping by 29.9% in Norwich and by 31.6% in Great Yarmouth.

Some areas have seen an increase in successful NI applications from non-EU citizens to even out the fall – in King's Lynn and West Norfolk they were up 25.4% to 168, in Norwich they rose 10% to 771 and in Yarmouth the number rose by 44% to 95.

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But in no case was this increase big enough to fill the gap left by EU applicants.

The New Anglia LEP explored the impact of migrant workers on the local economy in a report into Brexit, published last year, which it commissioned with Norfolk and Suffolk County Councils.

LEP chief executive Chris Starkie said: 'A ready supply of skilled workers, across our two counties and across our industry sectors, is vital if we are to achieve our ambitions for economic growth and success in Suffolk and Norfolk.'

Nova Fairbank, public affairs manager at Norfolk Chamber of Commerce, said: 'EU migrant workers have become necessary for many sectors in Norfolk, in particular hospitality, healthcare and agriculture.

'These sectors rely on EU migrants to fulfil their employment needs and not being able to access this talent pool would prove to be a major challenge should the decline in workers continue.'

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