Brexit wounds: We employ people from outside the UK because it makes us better
A view from Richard Huntington

Brexit wounds: We employ people from outside the UK because it makes us better

The government's vision of "British jobs for British people" imperils a world-leading creative industry markedly richer for outside talent

There is no issue of greater consequence in running an agency than talent. The best people run the best agencies and the best agencies attract the best people. The best clients want to work with the best agencies because they offer the best talent and – surprise, surprise – that combination makes for the best work too.

Every success in this business flows from talent. And, right now, there is no other conversation of greater importance for our industry than the future of our talent and our access to talent in the future.

The decision to trigger Article 50 means many things but the clear and present danger it represents for our talent should be of concern to us all. Even now, months after the referendum, we have been given no reassurance, no certainty and no clarity about the rights of our people if we leave the European Union in two years’ time.

This, we are told, is part of a hugely clever game of "chicken" between the government and our EU partners, not to worry that we are talking about real people’s lives and the lifeblood of one of the UK’s most vital and vibrant global industries.

Even if the government should act with clarity and our talent from the EU is allowed to remain and work here, there is no certainty about future freedoms. The rhetoric of the moment plays up the idea of a more global UK but it seems highly unlikely that freedom of movement is on the cards for any of the talent that we crave.

Without doubt, bringing the best people to London, whether they are from Buenos Aires or Berlin, will become far more expensive, far more bureaucratic and far more painful for agencies and talent alike.

This is because the government ultimately believes in a Trumpian vision of "British jobs for British people". They acknowledge that our talent is global at present but they regard this as a problem that needs to be solved and an issue we need their help in solving. Not as the source of our power and prowess on a global stage.

Their view is that, if we are dependent on people from the EU or anywhere else, this is because there is a "skills gap" in the UK that has forced us to draw in talent that we don’t ourselves possess. And that, they believe, is something that should be resolved through education and training.

Without doubt, bringing the best people to London, whether they are from Buenos Aires or Berlin, will become far more expensive, far more bureaucratic and far more painful for agencies and talent alike.

This is the heart of the total misunderstanding of the creative industries by our political mistresses and masters. The idea that there is a "skills gap" is both fundamentally incorrect and hugely insulting.

Across fashion, architecture, design and advertising, the UK is world-leading, offering some of the best raw talent, best education and best opportunities on Earth. There is no "shortage" of skills that needs filling from abroad.

What we have is an insatiable appetite for creativity and originality wherever it comes from. This is what fuels our creative leadership and this is why the world beats a path to our door to take advantage of it.

We employ people from outside the UK not because we have to but because it makes us better, after all, my own agency was founded by two Iraqi immigrants.

Access to the single market, that other casualty of the planned exit, is important to us but the red line for industries like ours is freedom of movement. And that’s ultimately why the interests of the creative industries in general and advertising in particular are totally irreconcilable with what increasingly appears to be on the table – the hardest of Brexits.

Richard Huntington is the chairman and chief strategy officer at Saatchi & Saatchi London.
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