Those looking for “despite Brexit” good news may be reassured that employment in the UK by the biggest Japanese companies has grown by 22% since 2014/5, right in line with the growth in Japanese jobs across Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA). About a quarter of the 750,000 people we estimate work for Japanese companies in the region are working in the UK, and so far there is no obvious divergence between the UK and the rest of EMEA in terms of overall job growth.
Big ticket acquisitions are the main driver of Japanese growth in the UK
But as we pointed out in previous posts looking at the trends across Europe, a distinction needs to be made between “new jobs” created in EMEA by Japanese greenfield investment, and investments which are acquisitions of existing jobs. Eastern Europe is the beneficiary of the former, particularly for the automotive sector, whereas the UK has been the target of the latter with big ticket acquisitions like SoftBank acquiring ARM, Mitsui Sumitomo acquiring Amlin, Sumitomo Rubber acquiring Micheldever, and NEC acquiring Northgate Public Services as well as Outsourcing acquiring various staffing and outsourcing companies.
Where are the “new jobs”?
These acquisitions account for the new entrants to the Top 30 ranking we have compiled below. They push out Fujifilm, Sumitomo Corporation, Japan Tobacco (who shut their factory in Northern Ireland last year) and Toshiba. The original Top 30 in 2014/5 have grown a more modest 10% if the acquisitive newcomers are not included. One of the highest climbers from the original 2014/5 ranking is the main Japanese creator of new jobs in the UK- Hitachi – in particular via their rail manufacturing and assembly plant at Newton Aycliffe.
There has not been a decline in automotive sector jobs in the UK – yet – however. In fact quite the reverse – there has been some growth in jobs in all three of the big Japanese car companies. But the trend is clear, as pointed out in previous posts, that even without Brexit, the drift of investment and jobs in the automotive sector is eastwards and to Africa. It’s easy to see how British people in those areas where Japanese automotive supply chains are active could blame the EU for job losses. Even though there actually weren’t that many EU grants enabling Japanese companies to transfer production from the UK to Eastern Europe – despite the rumours – merely by being members of the Single Market, and having lower labour costs, Eastern European countries are an obvious destination for new manufacturing investment.
Will Japan’s investment in the UK services sector be Brexit proof?
The investment in the UK by Japanese companies over the past three years has largely been through acquisitions in the services sector. This is not surprising, as services are 80% of the UK’s GDP and the UK’s comparative advantage in the region. It is also relatively Brexit proof in the sense that services sector investment will not be directly affected by any supply chain disruptions. Clearly if the UK economy takes a hit from Brexit, however, this will dampen demand for services. There has also been a shift of regional headquarters away from the UK by Panasonic and Sony and others, and of financial services companies, but as yet this has not hit UK jobs.
Eastern Europe has also been attractive to Japanese companies for business process outsourcing. Although Fujitsu is still – just – the top employer in the UK, employee numbers have dropped 29% – and there are now 13,000 people working for its service centres in Poland. NTT and its subsidiary NTT Data has also shot up the Top 30 both for the UK and the EMEA region – again through acquisitions – and has decided to base its new global ex-Japan headquarters in the UK.
Infrastructure, energy, transport should be the future for Japanese jobs in the UK
The UK’s strength as a global services provider will not disappear overnight, however hard the Brexit. But it’s hard to imagine how the kinds of secure, high quality automotive manufacturing jobs that those who voted for Brexit might have wanted to see return to the UK will come back, however soft the Brexit. The potential sunlit upland is in infrastructure – energy and transport. These sectors were needing investment regardless of whether the UK is in or out of the EU and are not so reliant on just in time supply chains across the region. Transport, environment and energy are areas where cooperation and financing on an EU-wide basis makes business and environmental sense though. But unfortunately Brexit has provided a distraction that has resulted in Hitachi freezing its Horizon nuclear power projects in Wales and Gloucestershire from lack of government financial support, and the recently called review of HS2 must also be giving Hitachi’s rail business and other Japanese executives cause for concern. Risk averse Japanese companies are not going to want to make multi million investments in infrastructure projects in a country which is politically unstable and unreliable.
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