Companies look for other solutions post Brexit after new figures reveal drop in EU workers coming to Fenland

Environment Secretary Michael Gove visited Ely-based Barcham Trees ahead of launching the government

Environment Secretary Michael Gove visited Ely-based Barcham Trees ahead of launching the governments first tree health strategy. PHOTO: Harry Rutter - Credit: Archant

Fenland is facing an uncertain future post Brexit after new figures reveal a dramatic drop in the number of EU workers coming to the area.

Fewer EU citizens are registering for national insurance numbers in Fenland than before the Brexit vote, the latest figures reveal.

The statistics, from the Department for Work and Pensions, show how many foreign nationals have successfully applied for NI numbers, which are required to work or claim benefits.

In the 12 months up to March this year 1,514 people from the EU registered for NI numbers.

In the year before June 2016, the month of the referendum, 1,803 people registered, 289 more than in the latest period.

Many leading businesses face challenges on different fronts: G’s for example who has invested heavily in a new mushroom growing facility near Littleport rely on Eastern European pickers to bring in the crop.

Produce World – that operates out of Chatteris, Yaxley, Isleham and Sutton Bridge – handles a variety of vegetables and it, too, recognises how important it is to get Brexit right.

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Director Jason Burgess is also chairman of the British Growers Association and believes automation and collaboration has been a key to their success and he hopes and expects the British government to continue to support the sector once we leave the EU.

Describing it as “a crunch time for the industry” he accepts issues over competitiveness and profitability and labour were already there but that Brexi has hastened the time left to resolve them.

Data on NIHI registration alone doesn’t show why numbers of EU workers are coming here but all industry experts need to find ways to plug expected gaps in their labour force.

Agriculture is one of the main areas of concern for the Government There have been fears expressed that there will be a workforce gap after Brexit, particularly in catering, construction and agriculture.

The justice secretary David Gauke said prisoners could fill the roles that migrant workers had left behind.

On a cautionary note the DWP said the figures should not be used to indicate immigration levels, as foreign nationals could have been in the country for some time before applying for an NI number.

Initiatives to support local businesses are coming thick and fast – in the south of the county for instance a Brexit Working Group is being set up to work businesses looking at issues such as staff and what practical steps can be taken to help them.

A fortnight ago the Secretary of State for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs, Michael Gove MP, came to Cambridgeshire at the invitation of SE Cambs MP Lucy Frazer.

Mr Gove visited local businesses in the agriculture and agricultural technology (agritech) sectors and Ms Frazer took the opportunity to press the importance of agriculture and agritech in Brexit negotiations with the EU.

He said: “The pioneering work being done in the agriculture and agri-tech sectors here is boosting business in this region and driving economic growth nationally. The UK is a world leader in agricultural research and innovation, and leaving the EU is an opportunity for us to set the global agenda.”