LEAVING the European Union would deprive businesses of a key source of technology and engineering talent, according to Edinburgh-based online accounting company FreeAgent.

“Engineers are like hen’s teeth and we need to cast our net as wide as we can to get the best talent,” said chief executive Ed Molyneux, a former pilot in the Royal Air Force.

“We’re looking to bring in between 15 and 20 people by the end of the year and we’ve got about seven open roles on the engineering side. We’ve occasionally tried to bring in people from the US, Canada and Australia. But it has never worked out because it’s so difficult from the point of view of visas and the whole sponsorship thing is a major pain. Whereas we have a handful of really talented people from the EU. It’s so straight forward and it just makes life much easier.”

The company, which provides an online accounting platform for freelancers and microbusinesses employing fewer than ten people, has 45,000 paying subscribers and 100 staff, including employees from Greece, Spain and France. Mr Molyneux said about six per cent of the firm’s workforce came from EU countries other than Britain.

“For tech companies, in particular, EU membership opens up the opportunity to hire world-class developers from Europe who can work alongside the best talent from the UK to create more sophisticated technology, develop better products and services and to help build bigger businesses,” he added.

Being a partner nation in the EU was also hugely beneficial in terms of trade – as many web-based small businesses were increasingly selling products and services worldwide rather than just domestically.

“Closing the drawbridge and isolating the UK from Europe through a Brexit strategy is likely to be extremely unhelpful to any UK business that has aspirations to grow outside of the UK’s borders,” Mr Molyneux said.