• Home
  • News
  • The economy badly needs a skills-based immigration policy
October 25th 2022

The economy badly needs a skills-based immigration policy

The upheaval in Westminster may be enthralling for political commentators, but it is causing huge anxiety for businesses.

Inflation is rampant, a very tight labour market is making it challenging to fill vital roles and government policy is up in the air while we await the chancellor's Halloween statement and Rishi Sunak's cabinet.

Scotland's salmon sector remains a bright spot for the economy and there is huge potential for growth. But to deliver this extraordinary opportunity requires action from the UK and Scottish governments.

One of the most important steps that Sunak and his new home secretary could do is to adopt a more enlightened immigration approach.

The Times reported that the fate of the previous home secretary, Suella Braverman, was sealed by a row over immigration, and it remains to be seen what path the UK will take. But it is clear that the economy would benefit from a sensible, skills-led immigration policy.

In today's jobs market, there simply aren't enough people available across a multitude of skills that we need. This is a business proposition that we have been putting to UK ministers and the Home Office since leaving the EU.

The new home secretary, and Sunak, must show new thinking and a pro-business approach when it comes to immigration. Despite an average salary across the sector of £36,000 and numerous and continual employment initiatives, our labour pool has shrunk since Brexit, with many key staff returning to eastern Europe.

Very low unemployment and extremely limited labour availability in areas where our businesses have processing facilities across Scotland mean our factories are running light on staff. Increased mechanisation, the use of robotics and other company innovations are helping — but we need is more skilled staff.

The steps the next government should take include a change to key worker definitions, changes to the salary cap level, and a broader public signal that the UK is open to people and to business. If there is no change in attitude in the Home Office or Downing Street, it will be a clear risk to business competitiveness against our main international competitors.

Enhancing our export position is of vital importance. Coupled with the labour challenges, any escalation of EU-UK negotiations over the Northern Ireland protocol is therefore high on our risk register. Sunak can help us to deliver continued, responsible growth at a troubling time for the wider economy.

This article first appeared in The Times on Tue 25 Oct 2022.