Let me tell you about Bruce*. He’s the sort of bloke every office needs. He’s chirpy, always positive, enthusiastic about his work, and above all, he backs himself. If he’s at the races he’ll put £20 on the outsider to win, not to place. If he’s given a difficult project, he’ll always be looking for the angle to be successful. If he loses his right to work in the UK he’ll keep his head up and find a way back..
Yes, you did read the last bit correctly. You see, Bruce is Australian. And despite being a first-class professionally qualified planner, having made a major contribution to the success of Iceni’s Planning team, paid his taxes like the good citizen that he is, and positively promoted the virtues of London as a place to work and live in, he can no longer continue to work in UK, despite us sponsoring his application and demonstrating that we were unable to find suitable alternative candidates to fill his position at Iceni.
Brexit and the freedom of movement for Europeans is obviously a thorny topic, and much is being made by Remainers of the importance of retaining talent in London and the wider country. Meanwhile, Brexiteers talk about the importance of being more internationalist, and looking beyond the European Union for trading partners and relationships. So considered in that context, one might be willing to afford Bruce more than a wry smile when considering his plight – and indeed, that of others. And it’s worth considering the wider implications of this for planning in London and the UK.
The UK planning system has travelled reasonably far, but it has stayed essentially Anglo-Saxon in its export routes. The Irish system is very similar, and to differing degrees, the same can be said for Canada, parts of the US, Australia, New Zealand, and English speaking Africa. With the exception, of Ireland, the UK’s pool of international planning talent falls outside of the European Union. We would be pleased were it to be the case, but the reality is that we do not have lots of French, Spanish, Italian, German, and Polish town planners queuing up to join us. So in that sense, freedom of movement across mainland Europe is less of an issue for us. Conversely, we have lots of Irish planners working for us, and long may that continue. But we also rely on Aussies and Kiwis to choose to put down roots in London, and to choose to come and work for us.
Our plight is not alone. It has become a cheap shot to accuse London boroughs of surviving on the contract labour of antipodeans. Behind the barb is a serious point; London boroughs do rely on foreign planners, be those that are passing through for a couple of years or choosing to make London home for the long term, and so too do many private sector planning teams like Iceni. At a time of uncertainty in the country, but also when there is an acknowledged housing crisis, changing planning system, a labour shortage of planners generally, and a need for a step-change in delivery, it surely cannot be in the national interest to cut off access to a vital source of employment.
It is also counter to one of London’s great virtues; you do not have to have been born in London – or even in the UK – to be a Londoner. I wasn’t born or brought up in London, but it has been my home for the past 23 years. I feel implicitly a Londoner, and I am proud to say so. Telling people like Bruce that he isn’t welcome here is not done in my name or I suspect the majority of Londoners.
Back to Bruce. I told you that he backs himself, and that he looks for the positive in any situation. He hasn’t lost heart. He has had to go back to Australia, which involved saying goodbye to his European girlfriend (she of course could stay without any problems, albeit conversely, she couldn’t go to Australia to work without a visa). He has managed through the power of social media to prove to the Home Office that he is in a long-term relationship, and he’s reapplied to stay in the UK as an EEA Partner. He hasn’t yet been allowed to recommence his employment, but he’s positive that this will happen in the next couple of weeks. We are thousands of pounds down in legal fees, he has not been able to work for three months, we have had to ask our Planning team to work harder in his absence, but at least the politicians can talk tough about immigration and a positive future for the UK after Brexit.
*Blatantly made up name.