New report suggests majority of EU workforce options won’t work for public services


All but one of the workforce settlements options that the UK could reach with the EU would fail to meet the needs of public services, according to a new report published today (Thursday 3 May).

The report, by CIPFA’s Brexit Advisory Commission for Public Services, argues that only a bespoke deal with the EU, which would allow the public sector to recruit top-end talent as well as sufficient numbers of skilled workers and lower-skilled staff, would work for public services.

This is because the other politically viable options, which include: free movement for people with a job offer; free movement for particular groups of workers; a points-based system; preferential system for EU nationals; and a work permit system, do not meet the requirements of the public sector.

A workforce deal with the EU, which would support public services, would have the following characteristics:

  • Be flexible enough to ensure public sector organisations can recruit the talent they need
  • Ensure public services are still able to recruit the best international talent to the most skilled posts, such as medicine and academia
  • Enable the public sector and private providers such as care homes to recruit essential, lower-skilled staff, notably care workers
  • Be flexible enough to meet the varying workforce needs of different regions
  • Be consistent with the likely funding level of public services
  • Support public services in meeting future demand, particularly in health and social care
  • Avoid unnecessary bureaucratic barriers which would inhibit recruitment

The report suggests that if the settlement fails to meet these needs trade-offs must be found, such as increasing funding for public sector pay or increasing immigration from other parts of the world. Simply hoping the slack will be taken up by British workers in the absence of other policy initiatives is not a viable option.

Julia Goldsworthy, Chair of the Brexit Advisory Commission for Public Services, commented:

“A wealth of evidence suggests that if the UK were to end freedom of movement then it would result in a seismic change for public services in terms of its ability to recruit and retain vital staff. Indeed, even though we haven’t yet left the EU, there has already been a negative impact upon the health and social care workforce. 

“Considering a drop in EU migration would directly affect public services, the UK Government must not decide upon their approach to the workforce settlement without seriously taking stock of how best to support the public sector. Our evidence suggests that a bespoke deal seems like the best option available, and so we hope this is pursued.”

Rob Whiteman, Chief Executive of CIPFA, said:

“Workforce is a piece in the Brexit jigsaw that we can’t afford to mess up. Indeed, if we struck the wrong deal then it would have dire consequences for public services. 

“Despite time constraints, the Government must not rush to a workforce deal with the EU. Instead, they should consider extending the formal transition period to give themselves the opportunity to reach a suitable workforce solution that reflects the needs of the public sector.”


For further information please contact the CIPFA press office on T: 020 7543 5830 or E: 

Notes to editors

Other recommendations in the report Securing an EU workforce deal that works for public services, which is available online, include:

  • The government needs to balance its desire to control immigration with pragmatic steps to ensure public services can recruit the talent they need. A failure to do so would have a substantial impact on many aspects of British life, from education to healthcare and social care.
  • The deal on workforce needs to reflect the fact that public services do not have time for a long adjustment – key areas of the public sector that depend on EU workers are already experiencing chronic staff shortages.
  • To minimise disruption to public services and seize opportunities presented by Brexit, government and the public sector need to look beyond the formal transition deal with the EU when planning the content and timing of policy responses. This should include a joined-up, imaginative and ambitious approach to regional policy, encompassing service provision and economic and skills development.
  • The government needs to explain to the public that in many cases recruitment from the EU is not just necessary but desirable, enhancing the quality of our public services.
  • About The Brexit Advisory Commission for Public Services

The Brexit Advisory Commission is comprised of public sector leaders, experts and economists.

Former MP and Treasury Special Advisor in the Coalition, Julia Goldsworthy, who is now Director of Strategy for West Midlands Combined Authority, chairs the Commission.
Members include:

  • Rob Whiteman, Chief Executive, CIPFA
  • Vicky Pryce, Economist, CEBR
  • Marina Wheeler QC
  • Paul Johnson, Director, IFS
  • Niall Dickson, CEO, NHS Confederation
  • Andrew Carter, Deputy Director, Centre for Cities
  • Anna Randle, Head of Public Services, Collaborate CIC
  • Claire Kober, Council leader of the London Borough of Haringey
  • Professor David Bell, Professor of Economics, University of Stirling
  • Gill Payne, Director of Policy and External Affairs, The National Housing Federation
  • Julian McCrae, Deputy Director, IFG
  • Kate Kennally, CEO, Cornwall Council

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