The areas of the UK most at risk from automation are overwhelmingly pro-Leave, making tackling digital skills shortages a vital task for the next government, according to a report published today by the thinktank Onward.

The report, Human Capital, found that 48 of the 50 local authority areas with the highest risk of automation voted Leave in the 2016 Brexit Referendum. 43 also voted for the Brexit Party in this year’s European Elections.

Onward found that those with low skills were at the highest risk of imminent automation, with 27.5% of those with low or no skills in roles that have already seen some automation or are set to be automated soon. These workers are also disproportionately in areas that are struggling economically.

Pro-Leave automation risk highlights need for digital skills

According to Onward, the report shows that retraining workers is set to be a vital part of post-Brexit plans for the country, if the future Prime Minister is to avoid exacerbating existing divides that led to Britain voting to leave the EU.

“Leaving the EU is necessary but not sufficient to neutralise Nigel Farage ahead of the next general election – the next Conservative Prime Minister must also heal the longstanding divisions that contributed to the country’s vote to Leave,” said Will Tanner, director of Onward.

“Without concerted action, automation and technological change will widen Britain’s Brexit divisions and hold back low-skilled people and places increasingly excluded from Britain’s future.”

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Onward has called on the government to introduce a host of reforms to combat the problem, all designed to support retraining.

This would include a Retraining Tax Credit, which would be designed to incentivise businesses to invest in retraining for low-skilled workers. It is expected to cost £0.9bn a year, and retrain 1.5 million workers over a five-year period.

Other reforms include a National Retraining Scheme that would be funded with an extra £1bn through the current apprenticeship lev, which would give those at risk of automation the right to be retrained. Onward also proposes using funds currently allocated for the EU Structural Funds to attract jobs that are at low risk of employment to areas of the UK most impacted by automation.

“We need a full blown retraining revolution – to encourage firms to invest in their workers, support the lowest-skilled to find more secure jobs, and bring high-growth employment to places with lagging productivity,” said Tanner.

“Automation and technological innovation are having a transformative impact on our economy, our jobs and our daily lives,” added Matt Hancock, Health and Social Care Secretary, who will be attending the launch of the report today.

“Britain has a bright future ahead if we choose to seize these opportunities – but we must make sure we take everyone with us and don’t leave anyone behind. Everyone has a contribution of value to make and it is our task in Government to give everyone the support – and freedom – to succeed.”

Read more: UK digital skills need “urgent” improvement as 88% of companies face shortage