Immigration Needed To 'Plug Gap' In UK Economy, CBI Boss Says

Recruitment poster in the window of a restaurant in the West End on 3rd February 2022.
Recruitment poster in the window of a restaurant in the West End on 3rd February 2022.

Recruitment poster in the window of a restaurant in the West End on 3rd February 2022.

Immigration must be used to “plug the gap” in the UK’s economy, the boss of the UK’s biggest business group has said.

Tony Danker, director of the Confederation of British Industry, said the country needed immigration to fill job vacancies.

He made the comments ahead of a speech in Birmingham on Monday in which he will call on politicians to be “practical” about immigration.

Danker will tell the CBI conference that the UK should enable “economic migration” in areas where skilled workers cannot be found.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Danker said: “When it comes to immigration, it’s quite interesting, when you look at the OBR report on Thursday, they said the only thing that’s really moved the needle on growth is by allowing in a bit more immigration.

“The reason why it’s so important is we have literally over a million vacancies in this country, we have 600,000 people who are now long-term unwell, who aren’t coming back to the labour market any time soon.

“That’s why we have to get this shortage occupation list – the list of people that we’re really missing that we aren’t going to get in Britain any time soon – and we have to get them to plug the gap while we re-calibrate the labour market in the medium term.

“I’m afraid it’s one of those levers that does help you grow, doesn’t cost money, but I recognise it’s a tough political choice for Conservative politicians.”

Pointing to ongoing “barriers” to growth, Danker will tell the conference: “Let’s have economic migration in areas where we aren’t going to get the people and skills at home any time soon. In return, let’s make those visas fixed term.”

Conservative peer and prominent Brexit-backer Lord Wolfson recently said the UK’s current immigration policy is crippling economic growth.

He suggested firms could pay a tax to employ foreign workers which would encourage them to prioritise British candidates.

“We have got people queuing up to come to this country to pick crops that are rotting in fields, to work in warehouses that otherwise wouldn’t be operable, and we’re not letting them in,” Lord Wolfson said.

“We have to take a different approach to economically productive migration.

“I think in respect of immigration, it’s definitely not the Brexit that I wanted, or indeed, many of the people who voted Brexit wanted.

CBI Director-General Tony Danker.
CBI Director-General Tony Danker.

CBI Director-General Tony Danker.

“We have to remember, you know, we’re all stuck in this Brexit argument. We have to remember that what post-Brexit Britain looks like is not the preserve of those people that voted Brexit, it’s for all of us to decide.”

However, immigration minister Robert Jenrick said British employers should look to the “domestic workforce” if they are seeking “lower-skilled labour” as he insisted the UK is committed to cutting net migration.

Jenrick said the government disagreed with the CBI on the need for more immigrant workers.

“We want to bring down net migration. It’s something that is, as you say, very important to the British people and we’re on the side of the British people,” he told TalkTV.

He added: “If British employers are looking for lower-skilled labour, then the first port of call should be the domestic workforce.

“It should be training up, improving the skills of British people and getting them into the workforce – because there’s still five million British people who are not economically active, including about half a million who left the workforce around the time of the pandemic.”

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