Life sciences: times of political uncertainty

12 May 2017


It has been almost a year since the UK voted to leave the EU – a decision which has already had a profound impact on the recruitment industry, and in particular on the life sciences sector. The Brexit wheels of motion are now in full swing, but there is uncertainty over what type of arrangement we will end up with, especially regarding access to funding, regulatory approval, trade and of course immigration policy.

Access to talent from the EU

More than two thirds (65 per cent) of REC members in life sciences believe the sector would be negatively affected by further restrictions on EU migration to the UK.

Furthermore, 76 per cent of life sciences members say that high-skilled roles and upper middle-skilled roles would be the hardest to recruit for if further restrictions are introduced. In particular, R&D scientists and quality/regulatory roles were highlighted as likely to be the hardest to fill.

Despite the possible feeling of uncertainty ahead, it is important to remind all members that the life sciences sector is one which saves lives. We should focus on our professional duty to deliver the highest possible standards to all, and not use Brexit as an excuse. The reality is we can’t change it, but we can change the way we feel about it. – Ricky Martin, chair of the REC Life Sciences sector group

General election

As the recruitment industry continues to grapple with Brexit, another challenge has appeared in the form of a snap general election.

Immigration will be one of the most significant challenges for any new government and a key factor in deciding what type of Brexit we get. The government has already stated a goal of bringing immigration down to ‘sustainable levels’. Exactly what this means is unknown, but the REC will be at the forefront of the debate calling for a system which reflects our immediate labour market requirements, and enables business to access the people they need.

What next for life sciences?

Over the coming months and years, the government will be in a position to review EU-based regulations. However, the clear steer from REC members is that the priority for the new administration should be to re-evaluate domestic employment and tax regulations. We need to create the best possible regulatory landscape – one that facilitates growth and job creation, whilst maintaining effective enforcement to protect the interests of compliant businesses.

Regarding life sciences specifically, the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) have called for the next government to be more ambitious in improving access to innovative medicines. ABPI president Lisa Anson has said: “Do we want to improve NHS patient outcomes and ensure Britain continues to be a global player in life sciences, or run the risk of the UK becoming a desert for healthcare innovation?”

Times of political uncertainty often impact on markets, but since Brexit, the labour market has held up well – we have record high employment and record low unemployment. However, with an imminent general election it will be difficult to predict how the industry will respond both pre and post polling day. What’s not in doubt is that members are concerned that access to highly skilled workers will an ongoing challenge for the life sciences sector.

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