CONSUMERS face rising prices and slower deliveries unless non-graduate European Union nationals are allowed to work in Britain's retail sector after Brexit, industry leaders have warned.

Around 10,000 EU nationals work in retail in Scotland and business chiefs have demanded clarity on their future amid concern about the impact on their status after the UK's withdrawal from the EU.

Nicola Sturgeon pledged over the weekend that the Scottish Government would pay the fees of European citizens working in the public sector if they want to gain "settled status" after Brexit.

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She made the commitment amid concern over the loss of a vital part of the workforce in the NHS and other public sector areas such as social care.

But question marks remain over the future of thousands of workers in the private sector.

David Lonsdale, director of the Scottish Retail Consortium (SRC), said: “Six months after the triggering of Article 50 it’s hard to believe we still lack total clarity over the future of the 10,000 EU nationals currently working in the Scottish retail industry. Those workers deserve better.

“In stores, head offices, and logistics, EU workers make an enormous positive contribution to the choice, price and availability of goods available to Scottish shoppers.

“We want to see early certainty about their future working status in the UK for their sake, but also as it could ultimately affect the choice and availability of goods on shop shelves that Scottish customers have come to expect.

“We also need to ensure that Scotland’s future retail workforce has the people, skills and resources to continue meeting the needs of consumers and grow the industry’s huge contribution to the Scottish economy."

“That’s why we want to see a more ambitious approach from the Scottish Government towards the apprenticeship levy. From April, Scots retailers started paying £12million a year in levy fees, but it is far from clear what they are getting in return for this significant extra tax.”

The British Retail Consortium (BRC) highlighted figures showing EU nationals account for six per cent of the retail market’s workforce, with 170,000 employees, which are concentrated in certain areas of the country and in warehousing and distribution jobs.

Its annual workforce survey showed more than half of retailers said their EU colleagues were worried about their right to remain in the UK, almost a quarter reporting that staff had already left the workforce.

The BRC said any reduction in the availability of skills and workers through the ending of free movement for EU nationals could lead to higher employment costs for businesses.

The group believes retailers should have access to non-graduate EU labour in a “demand-led” immigration system that does not require employer sponsorship and, in addition, the government should invest in skills and give retailers more flexibility on the apprenticeship levy.

Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the BRC, added: “The UK’s decision to leave the EU has created uncertainty, not only for business, but for the people from the EU they employ.

“These are real people with families, livelihoods and homes in this country.

“It is not right that 16 months after the referendum these people still don’t have the security they need to continue their lives."

John Hannett, general secretary of the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers (USDAW), said: “Going forward, the sector will continue to need EU workers to come and work in retail, distribution and food manufacturing.

“We need a debate, based on facts and evidence, as to what that post-Brexit retail sector will look like.”