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Scottish Employment and Fair Work Minister writes letter calling for more action to tackle labour shortages

On Wednesday, July 21, Richard Lochhead, Minister for Just Transition, Employment and Fair Work wrote the following letter to Gillian Keegan MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills).

"I am writing with regard to Scottish Ministers’ recent engagement with employers and representative bodies for sectors including Tourism and Hospitality, Food and Drink Manufacturing and Transport Logistics. As these sectors emerge from the deep disruption of the pandemic, employers are now reporting challenges in attracting and retaining workers, with many directly linking labour shortages to the end of free movement. This is a real concern, not only for the sustainability of these organisations but for the UK’s economic recovery.

The Scottish Government is taking action where appropriate, however, there is a clear need for the UK Government to listen to the voices of employers and workers, and to work collaboratively with industry and with the devolved administrations, to help address these challenges which have far-reaching consequences if dismissed.

It is already clear that your harmful immigration proposals are limiting access to international labour and skills that Scotland needs in order for our economy and communities to flourish. The growth in the number of EU nationals working in Scotland has slowed since the EU referendum. National Insurance Number registrations of EU nationals in Scotland for the first quarter of 2021 were 70% below their pre-pandemic levels. Recent UK Government Immigration statics relating to the year ending March 2021 highlight that only 3,600 visas were granted to EEA nationals, 30% of which were under the Skilled Worker category.

Under your so called ‘points-based system’ the main visa routes are for high earners, with almost no route at all for so-called ‘low-skilled’ workers. The UK Government has made assumptions about the value of different roles in our economy and society, unfairly describing many contributions as “lower-skilled”. The current experience has shown that we must value all skills and that the proposed salary selective approach to future immigration policy is inappropriate, is ineffective, and indeed damaging, in response to the skill requirements of a post-COVID-19 world.

The continued focus on ‘highly skilled' workers and the UK Government decision to delay the implementation of the majority of RQF 3-5 roles eligible for the Shortage Occupation List will be disastrous for our economy and society and is already risking acute labour shortages. I strongly urge you to reconsider this proposed approach and at the very least allow for the Scottish Government to meaningfully influence the development of the Scottish Shortage Occupation List given the positive impact migration has on devolved areas such as local labour markets and public services.

Without inward migration the UK faces population decline which will disproportionally affect Scotland: it is highly doubtful whether we can afford an increasing dependency ratio at a time when the tax base will likely have been severely eroded. It is abundantly clear that reducing migrant numbers will detrimentally impact on many sectors and industries that are particularly key to Scotland and the other Devolved Governments, including social care, agriculture, food processing, manufacturing, construction, and tourism."

Read the complete letter at

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