Hiring within the private sector has fallen to its lowest level in the past three years in the face of uncertainty over the Brexit vote. Financial centres in London and Edinburgh were worst hit by this hiring freeze, according to a survey by Manpower’s Employment Outlook, one of the world’s largest recruitment firms.

The company surveyed 2,000 employers throughout the UK on their hiring intentions for the second quarter of 2017. Most sectors said they would keep staff numbers about the same, with only the construction industry reporting an improvement in their hiring plans.

Until now, hiring has remained rather steady despite predictions from economists to the contrary. However, the job market appears to have softened following the Brexit vote and continued uncertainty about how the negotiation process will play out. With the latest news that Article 50 won’t be triggered until the end of March, this has only fuelled the uncertainty for employers. There has also been a downturn in graduates from the EU seeking work in the UK, which could point to a potential skills shortage if freedom of movement comes to an end.

Mark Cahill, managing director of ManpowerGroup UK said: “With huge uncertainty surrounding sectors like banking and financial services — critical to the economy in London and Edinburgh — it’s no surprise that confidence in these regions is suffering.”

Uncertainty over the outcome of the Brexit negotiations has fuelled this latest slump, although the UK employment rate has continued to grow to the highest rate since records began in 1971. However, the number of people of in work between October–December 2016 increased by 37,000, which is much lower than the average increase of 137,000 per quarter between 2012 and 2015.

Jonas Prising, chairman & chief executive of ManpowerGroup said: Having seen the surprising election results in the UK and US in 2016, European businesses know to expect the unexpected.

Even in countries where hiring intentions are positive some employers are experiencing challenges finding individuals with the most in-demand skills. We are seeing the emergence of a Skills Revolution, where helping people adapt to a fast-changing world of work will be the defining challenge of our time.”