Holy­rood ‘must have pow­ers to fix farm labour short­ages’

Brexit: Cri­sis can only be re­solved by de­volv­ing im­mi­gra­tion, claims Ewing

The Courier & Advertiser (Perth and Perthshire Edition) - - NEWS - GareTh mcpher­son po­liT­i­cal ed­i­Tor gm­cpher­son@the­courier.co.uk

The only way to tackle the un­fold­ing labour cri­sis in Scot­land’s fruit-pick­ing in­dus­try is for Holy­rood to take con­trol of im­mi­gra­tion, says an SNP min­is­ter.

Ru­ral econ­omy sec­re­tary Fer­gus Ewing de­manded yes­ter­day that his UK coun­ter­part Michael Gove de­liv­ered on his com­mit­ment for the Scot­tish Par­lia­ment to take con­trol of some visa rules.

Tay­side and Fife are the heart­lands of the coun­try’s boom­ing soft fruit sec­tor, which was worth £115 mil­lion in 2016.

But farm bosses are al­ready strug­gling to find work­ers with Brexit, im­prov­ing eastern Euro­pean economies and con­ti­nent-wide labour short­ages threat­en­ing to dec­i­mate the in­dus­try.

Mr Ewing told Holy­rood yes­ter­day: “It is clear that the loss of mi­grant work­ers is not only a threat for the fu­ture but is dam­ag­ing the soft fruit econ­omy right now.

“The right ap­proach is for the Scot­tish Par­lia­ment to have the pow­ers to deal with the mat­ter our­selves.

“A tai­lored mi­gra­tion sys­tem for Scot­land is needed.”

Mr Ewing added de­volv­ing im­mi­gra­tion pow­ers within a UK-wide frame­work would al­low Holy­rood to “set visa rules and cri­te­ria in or­der to meet Scot­land’s most acute needs”.

David Tor­rance, a Fife SNP MSP, said ear­lier that farms had suf­fered from the Con­ser­va­tive Gov­ern­ment’s “shame­fully un­pre­pared and sham­bolic Brexit strat­egy”.

He said An­gus Grow­ers, which rep­re­sents nearly 20 farms in An­gus, Perthshire and Fife, had missed out on £625,000 last year be­cause worker short­ages meant 85 tonnes of fruit was un­picked or down­graded, as re­ported in The Courier.

Politi­cians from all ma­jor par­ties have called for the re­vival of the sea­sonal agri­cul­tural work­ers scheme (SAWS), which al­lowed non-EU work­ers to take tem­po­rary jobs in the sec­tor be­fore it was dropped in 2013.

The UK Gov­ern­ment has said the in­de­pen­dent Mi­gra­tion Ad­vi­sory Com­mit­tee is look­ing at schemes such as SAWS as it re­views Bri­tish labour re­quire­ments.

A spokesman has said: “De­fra and the Home Of­fice are work­ing closely to en­sure the labour needs of the agri­cul­ture sec­tor are met once we leave the EU.

“We have been clear that up un­til De­cem­ber 2020, em­ploy­ers in the agri­cul­tural and food pro­cess­ing sec­tors will be free to re­cruit EU cit­i­zens to fill va­can­cies and those ar­riv­ing to work will be able to stay in the UK af­ter­wards.”

Ru­ral econ­omy sec­re­tary Fer­gus Ewing wants a tai­lored mi­gra­tion sys­tem.

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