Married to Europe – a love match made to last

By John Newton, CTO and founder, Alfresco Software

“It would be disastrous for the UK economy to leave the EU. That is why I am saying a firm ‘no’ to a UK Brexit. And now I will tell you why…

Much has been written on productivity recently – the so-called ‘productivity puzzle’ as it has been tagged. George Osborne devoted a large part of his Budget to helping the UK move up the international league tables and has launched a wider ‘productivity plan’ to address the UK’s gap. In many ways, it is a conundrum. We continue to pull away from the economic crash and yet our levels of productivity stay firmly stuck at levels around 15% lower than the national level achieved before the financial crisis.

Even France – the so-called ‘sick man of Europe’ – is 27% more productive, per man hour, than we are over here. Even though it has higher unemployment, more strike days and the restrictive Working Hours Directive, it manages to extract more productive value from its workforce over the year.

Closing the productivity gap would add billions of pounds to the UK economy every year. It would make us all better off. But herein lies a wider issue. The lack of productivity has many causes; underinvestment, red tape, transport, education, accessibility and a lack of skills are just a few. But crucially, access to the right skills base is one of the main drivers for business growth in the UK.

As a major IT provider based in the UK we know how hard it can be to recruit the right developers, support and sales staff to run our business effectively. Recruiting the right talent is crucial if we are to run our business effectively. It is not just a matter of competing against the tech talent in London, but as a global business we have to compete with companies across the world.

The number of tech enterprises grew by 8% in the last 12 months across the UK, double the rate across all sectors as a whole, and contributed more than £90bn to the economy. At the same time, a UK Commission for Employment and Skills found that a lack of digital skills is hampering the UK economy.

We can’t rely on home grown talent alone. If we are to stay productive, employ the best talent and compete with businesses on a global scale, then we must be allowed to recruit the best staff from throughout Europe.

The EU has facilitated the free movement of labour, across international boundaries, granting us access to millions of additional potential employees. They typically show a willingness to learn and work, are younger than the average (travel and youth go hand in hand) and are very skilled at what they do.

They pay taxes, they spend, they stay, they raise families and help us, as a UK company, to prosper. The only way companies can improve efficiency is by enhancing working practices either through the adoption of new technologies, or by hiring the most skilful, adept staff – or both. With a static national birth rate, that means looking beyond the UK’s borders.

Any withdrawal from the EU structure would impact negatively on the flexible labour laws and our ability to trade freely across national borders. For that reason, we are firmly behind the UK’s staying a full member of the EU. That is why we are saying ‘Non’ to a Brexit and ‘Oui’ to a full integration with the talent across Europe.”

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