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Creative Industries Federation
September 20, 2020

New Federation survey: UK creative industries employ high
numbers of EU workers Brits cannot replace 


The UK’s creative industries employ high numbers of European workers who cannot be replaced by British staff, a new survey of Creative Industries Federation members has revealed.

The snapshot of the creative workforce suggests cutting immigration will damage the fastest growing part of the British economy.

Nearly three-quarters (73.8 per cent) of respondents believe restricting immigration will limit their capacity to do business. 

Three-quarters said they employ non-UK EU nationals and 61 per cent use non-British freelancers. 

A significant majority say these positions could not be filled with British workers.

The loss of EU workers threatens to exacerbate existing skills shortages in the sector in areas such as visual effects and animation. 

More than half (57 per cent) of Federation members surveyed said they are facing skills shortages. Of these, more than 40 per cent say the skills shortages have worsened this year and 80 per cent believe they will not be resolved in the next five years. 

John Kampfner, chief executive of the Creative Industries Federation, said: “Securing talent is the biggest challenge facing the creative sector today and restricting immigration will make this even more difficult.

“EU workers currently contribute to the enormous success of Britain’s arts and creative industries, including filling skills gaps not being met by our own education system. Cutting immigration will damage the capacity of the sector to grow and thrive.

“Brexit means we must overhaul our education system so that we produce more young people with the right mix of skills this country needs. If we don’t get this right, it is not just the creative industries that will lose out, but other 21st century sectors such as engineering, science and tech, to the detriment of the economy as a whole. 

“Many creative business are highly mobile and if they are not able to access the workers they need, the risk is they will relocate to places where they can.”

Ian Livingstone, Federation board member and chairman of the Sumo-Digital game development studio in Sheffield, said: "Hiring the best overseas talent does not displace British jobs - it helps secure them. Better talent means better products, better studios and the ability to attract investment from all over the world.  

“We want EU talent to stay in the UK as employees, but also to start their own games companies that create future jobs and growth. Yes, we need to ensure we have home-grown talent to fill jobs. But the videogames industry and the wider creative industries are set to suffer massively in the short term if immigration is not addressed in the right way."

The Federation carried out its poll to identify how its members will be affected by the loss of freedom of movement of EU citizens combined with restrictions on immigration. 

It is not yet clear that any new immigration system will give the creative sector access to international skills and talent. This needs to be addressed for the sector to be able to mitigate the risks of Brexit and seize opportunities including accessing new markets.

The Federation argues any new visa system must take account of some distinctive features of the creative industries. These include the fact that a high level of skill in the creative sector is not always rewarded with a high salary. The sector also uses freelancers who would not qualify to come to the UK under the existing visa system.

There is also a need for action in schools. Current education policies, such as the EBacc in England, are contributing to a drop in take-up of creative subjects, affecting the skills pipeline. 

The full breakdown of survey responses follows.

Creative Industries Federation snap workforce survey:

1 Is your business facing skills shortages?
Yes  56.96 per cent
No   43.04 per cent

2. If yes (to Q1), have these skills shortages worsened this year?
Yes  40.56 per cent
No   59.44 per cent

3. If yes (to Q1), are you confident that skills shortages faced by your business will be resolved in the next five years?
Yes 20.27 per cent
No  79.73 per cent

4. Are you concerned that restricting immigration will limit your capacity to do business?
Yes 73.84 per cent
No  26.16 per cent

5. Do you employ EU nationals?
Yes 75.11 per cent
No  24.89 per cent

6. If yes (to Q5), are there reasons why you could not fill these jobs with British workers?
Yes 66.13 per cent
No  33.87 per cent

7. Do you employ non-British freelancers?
Yes 61.18 per cent
No 38.82 per cent

8. If yes (to Q7), are there reasons why you could not fill these jobs with British workers?
Yes 70.66 per cent
No  29.34 per cent

Notes to editors:

The Creative Industries Federation is the national organisation for all the UK’s creative industries, cultural education and the arts.

The creative industries have been the fastest growing sector of the UK economy, worth £87.4bn GVA. The creative economy accounts for one in 11 of the UK workforce.  

A Creative Industries Federation survey of members before the EU referendum found 96 per cent of those able to vote were in favour of remaining. Reasons included access to talent, IP and copyright protection, EU funding and trade given the high levels of exports of creative goods and exports to Europe. 

There are currently 17 creative jobs on the government’s Migration Tier 2 Shortage Occupation List where it will permit visas because skills shortages are so severe. These include workers in visual effects and animation as well as dancers and orchestral musicians.

DCMS figures suggest non-UK EU nationals constitute 6.1 per cent of workers in the creative industries. Other evidence suggests the proportion is far higher in some parts of the sector. The UK Screen Alliance has reported that 30 per cent of visual effects workers are non-UK EU, rising to 40 per cent in major employers. The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) has reported that 25 per cent of the architects in the UK are non-UK EU citizens. A UK Interactive Entertainment (UKIE) survey found that non-UK EU national accounted for between 20 per cent and 30 per cent of respondent workforces. Please find more detail here.
The number of students studying creative subjects at school has fallen, especially in design and technology where numbers are down 22.6 per cent since 2011-12. The EBacc, a performance measure which contains no creative subjects, has exacerbated a longer term trend. 

For more information, please contact Louise Jury, director of communications and strategy, on 020 3771 0353/07771 598070 or or Jack Powell, policy and communications manager, on 020 3771 0354 or
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