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Brexit Poses Serious Risk to UK Fashion Industry, Says New Report

Restricting free movement will prevent access to top-tier talent and could slow overall UK economy, according to a study released by the Creative Industries Federation.
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By
  • Grace Cook

LONDON, United Kingdom — The Creative Industries Federation (CIF), a London-based organisation that represents trades including fashion, film and music in the United Kingdom, has produced its first ever global talent report, outlining the potentially detrimental effects Brexit and restricting free movement between UK and Europe will have on the country's fashion industry.

“The report maps, subsector by subsector, the nature of [the UK’s] reliance on international talent,” John Kampfner, chief executive of the Creative Industries Federation, tells BoF. “The end of freedom of movement poses a huge risk. Losing access to crucial international talent will damage our ability to produce the [work] that defines Britain around the world.”

The UK government intends to end free movement within the European Union by March 2019 as a means of reducing immigration to the UK. It is likely the EU will push back on the request when negotiating terms involving trade and tax. Ending free movement would cause major problems for the creative industries, which rely on freelancers who can sign on to last-minute projects at a moment's notice. (For instance, models are often booked the day before a shoot.)  The paperwork involved with the visa process would render it impossible for companies to do so.

However, the solutions outlined in the report could ensure that the industry can continue to easily hire top creatives, from photographers to models to architects. (Of the 160,000 people employed by the fashion industry in the UK, 98,000 are freelancers.)

CIF has proposed the introduction of a creative freelancer visa, an increase in short-term visas and the ability to hire any European creative on the day of a job. The recommendation comes after the Paris-based think tank OECD’s economic survey, released Tuesday, confirmed that self-employment is on the rise in the UK.

Overall, the creative sector in the UK is worth £87 billion ($114.5 billion) to the economy, with 2016 employment rates up 5 percent on last year — four times the growth of the wider UK workforce. In 2016, creative firms employed 130,000 EU nationals. Fashion is the fourth-highest employer of EU nationals within the creative industries, after music and film, according to CIF's findings.

“Currently, you can have the emergency overnight booking if something falls through… You can get someone in on the Eurostar from Paris by lunchtime, because there is no paperwork,” says Kampfner. Ensuring access to talent is a priority for CIF, which sits on the government’s migration advisory committee. “The government is aware that the creative industries are much more flexible with how they work than other industries, like the financial sector.”

According to the OECD, labour productivity in the rest of the UK is declining following the Brexit vote and the economy has slowed to 0.3 percent in the second quarter 2017. Brexit could reduce the UK’s GDP by £40 million ($52.7 million) by 2019.

“The creative sector is bigger than oil or gas, life sciences and aviation put together,” says Kampfner. “This is the absolute growth engine for the UK economy. Anything that is done that imperils this growth won’t just damage this sector, but it will damage the economic well being of the country at large.”

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