Worst-case Brexit could kill 92,000 science, tech jobs across UK – report

No-deal predicted to lop £46.8bn off Blighty investment

Sad man stares glumly over boxed contents of desk. Image via shutterstock (Baranq)

A no-deal Brexit scenario could scrap 92,000 science and technology jobs across the UK, a report has claimed.

The analysis (PDF), carried out by Cambridge Econometrics and commissioned by Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, aims to put numbers on the impact of a series of scenarios once the UK leaves the European Union.

Overall, it said that in a worst-case scenario of no-deal, there would be 482,000 fewer jobs across the entire UK and £46.8bn less investment than there would be if the status quo was to continue.

The worst affected sectors, it predicted, will be financial and professional services, with 119,000 fewer jobs, and science and technology, with 92,000 fewer jobs by 2030.

For science and tech, this is based on the prediction that – if the UK were to remain in the single market and the customs union – there would be 6,599,000 workers in science and technology in 2030.

A "worst-case scenario" – with no transition, no membership of either the single market of customs union and no preferential trade agreement – predicts 6,507,000 in 2030.

Breaking this down, the report claimed that the digital technologies would be worse off than life sciences. Digital technologies could fall from a predicted status quo figure of 895,000 in 2030 to a worst-case 863,000, the report said.

For life sciences and healthcare, the figures are predicted as 2,768,000 and 2,765,000, respectively.

The report also estimated the GVA for the sectors, with the status quo for science and tech estimated to bring in £446.5bn – compared with £433.9bn in the worst-case scenario.

Digital technologies are predicted to face a drop from £104.9bn in the status-quo 2030 to £100.1bn in the worst-case 2030.

Loss of EU funding major risk to science

However, the report said that the main problem facing the science and technology sector is access to funds after Brexit. The UK is a major recipient of EU funding, either in grants for individual researchers or as part of larger, international groups.

The total budget for Horizon 2020 – as the EU programme is known – is about €80bn for 2014-20, and it is estimated that the UK pulls in between €1bn and €1.5bn a year from the programme.

Although the government has pledged to underwrite any funding won before Brexit and December's initial exit deal said that UK researchers could still work on EU programmes, academics remain concerned.

And, in addition to money, it is possible that Brexit will make UK researchers a less attractive option for funding or collaborative work.

Figures released in September last year indicated that there is already a downturn in UK participation in the scheme, with participation falling three percentage points to 12 per cent from six months before.

Today's report highlights such concerns, saying that, "depending on the agreements made after Brexit, the UK could experience less benefits from access to research groups and the skills and collaboration opportunities provided by the rest of the EU".

It added there has also been a "loss in productivity in the macro modelling assumptions, particularly in the pharmaceutical industry, which is also likely to see a reduction in investment and substantial increases in trade costs".

Elsewhere in the report, it said that the impact on startups – of which it estimated there to be 414,355 in the UK in 2016, 33,625 in information and communications – was also uncertain.

"It is likely that the impacts would be negative (compared to what may have happened if the UK remained in the Single Market and Customs Union)," the report said.

"On the other hand, it is highly unlikely that entrepreneurial activities would halt following Brexit. New businesses are expected to continue opening in the UK and London, albeit at a slower rate than historically." ®

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