Preparing for Brexit

Britain’s impending EU exit could spell change for the cleaning industry, says British Cleaning Council (BCC) Chairman, Paul Thrupp.

Over the four decades since I joined the cleaning industry, the sector has seen huge changes. Back in 1977, most of the workforce was part- time and saw the industry as an avenue to earn extra cash – known as ‘pin money’.

In those days, the industry wasn’t ‘sexy’ and very few school leavers or university

graduates would dream of a forging themselves a career in the cleaning industry.

In the last 40 years, the cleaning sector and the people within it have worked tirelessly to improve its image and make our industry a career of choice, and the sector is much more valued these days.

In terms of sheer size, our industry is a heavy hitter. BCC research released earlier this year showed that the 63,000 businesses within our sector employ over 900,000 people and, together, contribute almost £50bn to the UK’s economy. We’ve also predicted employment growth of around 9% in the 10 years leading up to 2024.

Today’s industry offers many opportunities and we need talented people to fill roles in a wide range of areas, not just front of house skilled operatives, supervisors and site, contract or regional management. The industry also offers a range of support service roles including health and safety, quality, environmental, finance, project management, etc.

In many cases, cleaning has become the lead service within soft services facilities management or fully integrated FM models and, as such, has opened up opportunities for career progression leading into soft service and FM job roles.

At the same time, there’s been a big shift from part-time and evening/night cleaning to full time working with more sociable hours. As a result of this shift, cleaning staff need customer engagement skills so learning and development has become important. In the last 40 years, we have seen the move from part-time ‘pin money’ earners to a full-time professional industry workforce.

The next big transformation in the sector could be brought about by Brexit, and Britain leaving the EU could see firms adopt new business models and look again at their working practices.


One of the biggest post-Brexit challenges the industry may face is a staff shortage. Our research shows that 19% of the sector’s workforce UK-wide is foreign-born, with this figure rising to over 50% in the London area. If staff do become harder to recruit after Brexit, I expect to see firms react by making working in our industry more attractive, investing even more in staff retention with the adoption of initiatives such as wellbeing programs, improved home/work life balance and better development opportunities, etc.

Employer terms and conditions will need to be commensurate with the roles of employees and take into consideration what’s on offer in other areas of employment. In that context, the introduction of the Real Living Wage is to be welcomed where company finances permit its adoption. The level of the Real Living Wage is set above National Living Wage and is independently calculated based on how much pay a worker needs based on the actual cost of living. It’s a voluntary scheme being adopted by many UK cleaning sector firms.

In the event of Brexit, the industry must also investigate lean engineered practices and increased productivity by utilising the very latest in equipment and machinery. Staff shortages could further drive the adoption of robotics and automation, particularly to perform low-skilled, repetitive and monotonous tasks.

We will also need to be prepared for the possibility that Brexit will increase the cost of equipment and machinery. A continuing fall in the pound could push up the price of imports, including some of the kit that cleaning companies bring in from abroad. But in the longer term, it’s hoped that this will benefit British cleaning equipment and machinery manufacturers as their products become more competitive.

Brexit may or may not result in job losses in the cleaning sector, but the likelihood is that the growth we have predicted will counterbalance any cuts, over time. In the longer term, we believe our strong and resilient industry will adapt and thrive. Onwards and upwards.

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