MSPs call for immigration reform to tackle labour shortages

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  • Kate Forbes
    Scottish politician (born 1990)
Finance Secretary Kate Forbes said Scotland needs an immigration system to suit its needs (Andrew Milligan/PA) (PA Archive)
Finance Secretary Kate Forbes said Scotland needs an immigration system to suit its needs (Andrew Milligan/PA) (PA Archive)

MSPs have voted to call on the UK Government to reform the immigration system to tackle the impact of labour shortages on the economy.

A motion tabled by Finance Secretary, Kate Forbes in parliament passed by 68 votes to 55.

Ms Forbes claims the impact of the pandemic coupled with Brexit has caused the shortages, which have impacted – among other sectors – food deliveries in recent months, leading to strain on the supply chain.

The Finance Secretary told Holyrood it took 19 requests before immigration minister, Kevin Foster, agreed to meet.

We need action, we need engagement from the UK Government - we need a migration system that works for Scotland

Kate Forbes

“We need action, we need engagement from the UK Government – we need a migration system that works for Scotland,” she said.

“And yet, it is clear the immigration system is not meeting Scottish businesses’ and the wider Scottish economy’s needs.”

She added: “Immigration impacts on our economy, on our public services and on our communities and we need a commitment to genuine ongoing engagement and we need a migration policy that’s tailored to Scotland’s distinct needs.”

Previous attempts by the Scottish Government to push for change, including proposing a bespoke immigration system for Scotland in early 2020, were rejected out of hand by the UK Government.

The Finance Secretary tabled a motion in Holyrood (Jeff J Mitchell/PA) (PA Wire)
The Finance Secretary tabled a motion in Holyrood (Jeff J Mitchell/PA) (PA Wire)

Ms Forbes also called on the UK Government to establish a task force to address labour market shortages.

Figures published last year from a Royal Bank of Scotland survey found that, in September, the number of applicants for permanent jobs was at its second lowest level since records began in 2008.

Scottish Tory MSP, Liz Smith acknowledged that Brexit had an impact on the labour shortages, but added it was not the reason for all of the issues in the labour market.

“I think there is plenty of evidence to hand to demonstrate that several of the current problems existed long before Brexit – long before Covid, indeed – because one need only take a cursory look at the evidence that is supplied to the Finance Committee of this parliament from bodies like the Scottish Fiscal Commission, or the Fraser of Allander Institute, to recognise there are far more much more deep-seated problems that are at stake here,” she said.

The Scottish Government, Ms Smith said, refused to listen to businesses and implement policies to address issues, such as closing the skills gap, increasing the number of apprenticeships and helping employers to both upskill and re-train staff.

An amendment tabled by Ms Smith to the motion, which fell by 30 votes to 93, sought to remove any mention of Brexit from the Government motion.

Labour MSP Paul Sweeney agreed that Brexit should not be seen as the only cause of the labour shortages, adding: “While the pandemic may have exposed those fragilities, they are, in part, caused by an underlying lack of an industrial strategy – one that underpins upskilling, increases productivity and makes strategic public investments.”

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