Measuring the impact of migrant workers on the economy in the West Country 09 November 2008. A major survey is being carried out by the South West Regional Development Agency with the backing of GWE Business West.
Business West says migrant workers make an major contribution to the economy of the region, but are being driven away as a result of recession. The fear is that once the economic situation improves the vital sector of the economy will have disappeared for good.
Nigel Hutchings, GWE Business West’s Director of Regional Affairs, says some businesses rely heavily on migrant workers particularly in sectors such as tourism and agriculture.
He added: "Numbers in the South West grew rapidly between 2003 and 2005 when vacancies dropped by 44 per cent.
"Since then the use of migrant labour has become part of the business model for many companies." Most migrant populations are based around the major conurbations of Bristol and Swindon. But there are rural concentrations in West Wiltshire and South Somerset. They mainly work in agriculture, food processing, manufacturing, social care, hospitality and health. The vast majority come for a short period of time, are young, and do not come with dependants or access the benefit system or other public services.
"My fear is that when our economic slow down leads to lay offs, these migrant workers will either return home or go to the other European countries who will shortly open their borders," Mr Hutchings said.
"When our up swing comes and growth returns, where will the migrants be by then?"
The Equality South West organisation was set up to improve employment conditions and unlock the hidden potential of excluded groups.
The group is currently in the process of conducting a two-year project, funded by the South West RDA, to support migrant workers and their employers and to encourage the take-up of good practice.
The group will be issuing a questionnaire and organising two regional and seven sub regional events to look at good practice. It will consider assistance with language and learning about British culture and look for measures to guarantee fair treatment and proper access to public services.
Nigel Hutchings is keen that as many businesses as possible take part in the process of providing information.
He said it will help answer the key questions – how many migrant workers are really coming in, how many are leaving and what do they do when they are here. Nigel Hutchings commented: "It is critically important to understand the impact of this group on regional employment levels and on the perform ance of our businesses."