PM ‘snubs’ MP over ‘de­pop­u­la­tion cri­sis’

The Oban Times - - NEWS - By Sandy Neil sneil@oban­

The prime min­is­ter has ‘snubbed’ a bid by Ar­gyll and Bute’s MP and coun­cil to tackle a ‘de­pop­u­la­tion cri­sis’ with a ‘re­gional im­mi­gra­tion scheme’.

The re­gion is set to lose four per cent of its pop­u­la­tion by 2026, ac­cord­ing to fig­ures newly re­leased by the Scot­tish Ru­ral Af­fairs Com­mit­tee, with eight other Scot­tish coun­cils fac­ing sim­i­lar falls.

The area’s MP Bren­dan O’Hara says ‘with pro­jec­tions fore­cast­ing a greater than av­er­age de­crease in eco­nom­i­cally ac­tive adult and younger peo­ple, there are se­ri­ous con­cerns about the sus­tain­abil­ity and fu­ture eco­nomic growth of com­mu­ni­ties across Ar­gyll and Bute’.

Mr O’Hara and the coun­cil’s chief ex­ec­u­tive Cle­land Sned­don are seek­ing to ad­dress ‘this cri­sis’ by pi­lot­ing a ‘re­gional im­mi­gra­tion scheme’, ‘to help en­sure that busi­nesses and pub­lic ser­vices in Ar­gyll and Bute have ac­cess to skilled labour to sup­port the econ­omy and its am­bi­tions for growth in the fu­ture.

‘The pi­lot scheme would adopt a flex­i­ble ap­proach to im­mi­gra­tion, as hap­pens in Canada and in Aus­tralia, where spe­cific work visas are ap­proved for ar­eas of spe­cific need, a scheme that has been proven to work.’

Mr O’Hara, speak­ing in the House of Com­mons last week, ‘af­ter a three-year wait to be picked for a Prime Min­is­ter’s Ques­tions’, asked Theresa May if she would meet him and Mr Sned­don ‘to dis­cuss, or at the very least, ex­am­ine the mer­its of a de­volved or re­gion­alised im­mi­gra­tion strat­egy’. How­ever, he says the idea was ‘snubbed’.

Mrs May replied: ‘He has asked about a re­gional im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy, an is­sue that the Mi­gra­tion Ad­vi­sory Com­mit­tee looked at a while back. It made it very clear that was not a sit­u­a­tion the Govern­ment should ac­cept, partly be­cause of the prac­ti­cal prob­lems in im­ple­ment­ing it. When we put for­ward our pro­pos­als for the im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy for peo­ple com­ing from the Euro­pean Union, we will en­sure that they are right for the whole United King­dom.’

Af­ter­wards Mr O’Hara said: ‘Ru­ral Scot­land is fac­ing a se­ri­ous cri­sis of de­pop­u­la­tion and it is a cri­sis that is only go­ing to be ex­ac­er­bated by Brexit. Ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties, like Ar­gyll and Bute rely heav­ily on in­ward mi­gra­tion, par­tic­u­larly EU cit­i­zens, who want to come to work in many of our eco­nomic sec­tors and it is deeply dis­ap­point­ing to hear the Prime Min­is­ter is not will­ing to tackle this is­sue.

‘If the pop­u­la­tion of Ar­gyll and Bute con­tin­ues to de­crease we’ll all feel the ef­fects as fewer peo­ple means fewer folk spend­ing money in our shops, fewer kids in our schools, a short­age of staff in our hos­pi­tals and less de­mand for es­sen­tial ser­vices – all lead­ing to cuts in ser­vices for those of us who re­main.

‘But it doesn’t have to be this way and that is why I asked the prime min­is­ter to meet with me and the chief ex­ec­u­tive of Ar­gyll and Bute Coun­cil to dis­cuss the pro­posal. To be snubbed at this early stage and for the PM to sim­ply dis­miss these con­cerns shows scant re­gard for the fu­ture wel­fare of this con­stituency.

‘I will con­tinue to pur­sue this pol­icy and make the case for de­volved or re­gional im­mi­gra­tion. The days of a ‘one­size-fits-all’ UK im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy are over. It has failed mis­er­ably to date and needs to change ur­gently.’

An Ar­gyll and Bute Coun­cil spokesper­son said: ‘We are open to ex­plor­ing op­tions around re­gional im­mi­gra­tion as a means of ad­dress­ing the is­sue of de­pop­u­la­tion in Ar­gyll and Bute, and we would be will­ing to work with other in­ter­ested par­ties on this mat­ter, given its im­por­tance to the coun­cil’s over­all pri­or­i­ties.’

Bren­dan O’Hara ask­ing his ques­tion in Par­lia­ment.

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