I could imagine him bursting into song, Kiss or Purple Rain, at the Chamber of Commerce; a brand changing tour de force.
Okay, it wasn’t the most mature start to a meeting, but then I can’t be the only one whose mind gets distracted on solemn occasions. Obviously it wasn’t the late great Prince; only a very good imitation.
My first impression was dispelled quickly by this millennial and charming Westminster civil servant, on a mission to find out about the potential recruitment and staffing impact of Brexit on our economy in the north-east.
Grampian Housing Association employs a relatively small number of EU nationals, at most 10% of the workforce.
They are great members of staff: loyal, hardworking, smart and in many cases, their English is better than mine. Some have been with the association for almost 10 years.
In other sectors like fish processing, around 70% of employees are from outwith the UK and not just at the front end of the business.
Somewhere in between, you will find substantial numbers of economic migrants in the care sector, in universities, across catering and hospitality, as well as in high tech industries and engineering.
The chamber members present were unanimous in calling for the UK government to grant EU citizens who have been working and paying taxes permission to stay. Surely this is only fair and just, but also in our own self-interest.
If you take fish processing alone, it would take almost all the unemployed in Aberdeenshire to fill the vacancies in Peterhead and Fraserburgh if EU migrants were sent home.
Despite the unhappy place the energy sector finds itself in, the economy is still pretty strong and unemployment low. That’s good on one level, but recruitment is hard already.
Outside of high salary industries there is limited migration from other parts of Scotland. We have a twin track economy and what applies to oil and gas is a world away from businesses paying the minimum wage. If in future we have to rely on the visa system, it would add more bureaucracy, uncertainty and delay.
There is a bottom line and increasing pay to encourage people to move to the region may in some cases actually break the business model.
In other sectors where business would need to keep going regardless, like Grampian’s social housing world, or a national care provider like Cornerstone, the cost of increased overheads and more competitive salaries will be passed on to the public, directly or indirectly.
The thing is, peoples and countries have traded with each other from time immemorial. Finds in Orkney show that these islands have been buying, selling and haggling with Europe and beyond for at least 5,000 years.
We do it all the time and companies will find a way to do business, likewise deal with tariffs and trade conditions. Human ingenuity is a marvellous thing. The problem is people. If we struggle to recruit and retain, you can have the most benign trading conditions imaginable but it still won’t work for most enterprises.
Prince was solicitous and concerned, he asked us what we wanted. The right to remain for those who work for us now was a must. We need a sectoral and regional approach to freedom of movement because Brexit might not affect Grampian that much but it will hurt other sectors badly and the north-east is stuck out on a limb here. We asked for a proportionate citizenship process where the cost is linked to means.
At present it costs £1,000 and more to apply and for someone on a low income in the north-east that’s crippling. There are also stories circulating on social media about the Home Office telling people to prepare to leave when they apply.
The Artist formerly known as, dutifully wrote it all down but said he had seen no evidence and to reassure us he said it would all be sorted through negotiation over the next two years. What about the danger of losing good people? Anecdotal he replied. Nothing to see here, move along.
There is a happy ending. The members were swapping stories and it appears that the pinnacle of millennial enterprise, Brewdog has a dog friendly policy and a gluten free beer, Vagabond. But in order for the good times to continue we have to protect their German brewers.
“Dear Theresa …”