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Islington tech leaders warn of Brexit brain drain

Council leader calls on government to guarantee the full rights of EU citizens

08 February, 2019 — By Emily Finch

Bernhard Niesner: the co-founder of language learning app Busuu

TECH industry leaders have warned of a Brexit brain drain at their companies in the run-up to Britain leaving the European Union.

Bernhard Niesner, the co-founder of language learning app Busuu, which has headquarters in Finsbury Square, told the Tribune: “The job market has become much more difficult since the referendum.”

Mr Niesner, whose company boasts 90 million users worldwide, said he was currently struggling to fill 20 empty posts at his company.

“We will fill those roles but it’s hard. There’s a lot of confusion about whether people will be allowed to stay [after Brexit] and the incentive for people to come [to Britain] has gone down and it’s harder for us to attract talent. I don’t know what the legal status of a Spaniard is if he arrives in Britain tomorrow,” he said.

Mr Niesner, who hires around 100 people, explained that his current workers were also worried about their future in the country with around 50 per cent of his workforce from outside the UK.

“We are considering opening offices in other European locations and start hiring there rather than necessarily in the UK. The UK will potentially miss out in the future because those tech jobs won’t be created in Islington but will be created in Madrid,” he added.

Mr Niesner stressed that he was not planning to close their Finsbury offices.

“We will be delighted to hire people from Britain but there’s a shortage of data scientists, computer engineers, marketeers – those people are hard to find,” he added.

Mr Niesner explained how he first based his company in Madrid, Spain, before moving to Islington.

Brendan Gill, CEO of Open Signal based in Angel 

“Madrid was a vibrant city but then became a city full of mass unemployment with demonstrations, strikes on the tube. As a high-growth start-up we wanted to expand. It was difficult to attract business and talent so we decided to move out of Spain to escape the crisis,” he said.

He said his company pays thousands of pounds in income tax and revealed he pays a “substantial six-digit figure” in business rates tax.

Brendan Gill, CEO of OpenSignal based in Angel, said his company was currently “focused” on examining the impact of Brexit on his business

Mr Gill hires 60 people at his company, which specialises in mobile analytics.
He said: “Access to global markets is crucial for us. We have a very global team and there is currently a lot of focus and questions about Brexit and what that is going to mean. A lot of the people in the company are here by the grace of the EU.”

He added that there had been a “bit of a slow down” in the number of people from the EU applying for jobs at his company.

He said: “The biggest impact is yet to come. We’re very concerned about the volume of potential recruits in the future and the costs, we expect it will go up because of reduced supply and a reduced number of people.”

Islington Council leader Councillor Richard Watts said: “Islington’s economy is growing, and it is estimated that over 50,000 more jobs will be created in the borough by 2036. However, the uncertainty that has been created by the government’s shambolic handling of the Brexit negotiations is clearly having an impact on business confidence and on people’s decisions about whether to apply for jobs here. Islington is fortunate to be home to many growing companies, including tech firms, many of whom make a positive contribution to the borough by providing employment and training opportunities for local people.

“The council has repeatedly called on the government to immediately guarantee the full rights of EU citizens in the UK to continue living and working here.

“Sadly, the prime minister has continued to use these people as bargaining chips, and we are now beginning to see the consequences of that shameful approach.”

He added that the council will continue campaigning for the rights of EU citizens.

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