In July 2021, we wrote to the Home Secretary, the Rt. Hon. Priti Patel MP, to raise the issues of finding staff due to the fallout caused by Brexit.
As a business, and by our very nature, we are in contact with a wide range of service, hospitality, and office-based companies, from whom we’re hearing a similar story: we can’t find skilled or even available staff any more.
The Home Office’s response was that we should pay our staff more. As a Living Wage employer we more than endeavour to meet staff needs and it is our policy to offer members of our team 30 hours’ work a week, wherever possible. This is all incredibly rare in the commercial cleaning industry and so as you may imagine, we felt slighted. It was also beneath the Home Office because they should acknowledge that since the vote in 2016, they have made life harder not easier for overseas workers, whether from the EU or further afield. This has been a problem of their making, and to suggest that merely paying staff more would solve a gap in the labour market, is more than condescending; it’s completely gas-lighting the business electorate who in no small part put her party in power.
As Andrew Alleway, Co-Founder and Managing Director of Tidy Green Clean said, Brexit isn’t working for business and the pandemic is merely exacerbating it. Too many sectors are finding recruiting skilled, motivated staff to work in their industries is far more challenging today than it was prior to 31 December 2020.
Andrew Alleway stated,
“In our industry we work with many different businesses in every sector and we are hearing a common story: I can’t find skilled and willing staff anymore. For Tidy Green Clean, because we are an accredited member of the Living Wage Foundation, with many of our clients willing to pay Living Wage for our staff, we have fewer challenges than most. But talking with customers in the hospitality and leisure industries particularly, we are hearing that many European workers have gone home or to work in an EU country because they can earn more and do not have to worry about making sure they can get settled status. The Home Office’s approach to EU citizens since 1 January 2021 has been undesirable and caused huge amounts of distress for individual families, and that is now causing business significant challenges. EU workers have been the backbone of many industries for decades. Quite simply, it’s far too easy to blame this on the pandemic; the truth is, Brexit isn’t working for business.”
While the Home Secretary declined our invitation to visit Aberdeen to see for herself the challenges we are facing, we found our local MPs more than willing to meet with us and hear what we had to say.
We welcomed Kirsty Blackman, MP (Aberdeen North), to our offices in August, and Stephen Flynn MP (Aberdeen South – where our offices are based) and Audrey Nicoll MSP (Aberdeen South & North Kincardineshire) in September. They were very productive visits where the parliamentarians learned first-hand about the challenges many local businesses are facing and recognised the community contributions our business makes through its dual commitment to people and the environment. From our perspective, it’s always interesting to hear about what’s going on for a range of businesses in the communities they serve.
These responses matter. The wider future of Scotland is also at stake. Every time Westminster shuns an invitation to head north, businesses across this country take a deep breath and ask themselves: would we be better off in an independent Scotland? Like thousands of Scottish businesses, it’s not something we have ever stated a public opinion on, yet we sense that as time goes on, the tide is turning and collective Scottish business opinion is slowly moving towards thinking what may previously have been unthinkable.
One thing is certain: we are not better off outside the EU as far as recruitment goes. We are extremely fortunate that many of our employees have stayed to work with us, we hope because of the values we share and the opportunities and benefits they receive. Many come from Poland and Lithuania and we have Facebook groups for our teams so that we can make full use of the Facebook translate service which means staff can read our messages in their mother tongue as well as in English. But lots of EU workers have left Scotland because registering as a citizen was over-complicated and the deadline was very tight. They’ve either gone home or to Germany where they can simply register with the local town hall and start work straight away.
We need overseas workers because they bring skills and attitude we can’t always find locally. The cultural riches people from other countries brings are invaluable, and we know this because Tidy Green Clean is a partnership between a New Zealander and a Scot – and it’s created a phenomenal commercial dynamic that is disrupting the commercial cleaning industry like never before. In other words, we speak about this from experience. We need overseas workers and before Brexit, we had access to staff from 27 other countries at the drop of a hat. Since Brexit, we simply don’t. And it’s not working.
We need some kind of resolution and we need to be heard because it’s not going away. And in all likelihood, it’s going to get even worse because with a smaller pool of workers available, while wages will rise, which is no bad thing, we won’t have the choice of the best of the best that we once did. Until the UK government is prepared to listen and engage on this matter, we will continue to raise it as an issue, both locally and nationally and we would encourage all and every business who is experiencing similar challenges, either themselves or via their customers as we are, to use their voices and call for change.