Scotland’s Rural Affairs Secretary Mairi Gougeon has written to UK Migration Minister Kevin Foster calling on him to urgently address the shortage in local labour for horticultural workers in the country.
With the rural labour supply some 6% to 7% below the national average, she said that farmers and growers were particularly hard hit by a combination of factors, including Brexit and Covid-19 and that post-Brexit measures were failing to address a long-term decline in labour availability.
“The salary threshold for the UK’s immigration system and the Shortage Occupation List are not enough to attract working age people to our rural areas,” Ms Gougeon wrote. “The Scottish government has long argued that the current system does not meet Scotland’s migration needs.”
She has also announced a range of pilot measures for Scotland, including a Scottish visa aimed specifically at rural areas where labour shortages were identified, expanding the skilled worker scheme, and adding special measures that would allow rural employers to recruit the staff they needed from abroad, and a remote and rural partnership scheme run in partnership with local authorities, employers, and public services. Ms Gougeon added, “We cannot just rely on retention of the existing population. We need to attract new people, families and those of working age who can help to grow and sustain our communities.”
In another development, NFU Scotland (NFUS) is urging Scottish growers who make use of the Seasonal Workers Pilot scheme to complete an online survey about labour issues. “The UK Government announcement about the tapering down of the Seasonal Workers Pilot scheme is bad news for the industry and will make the labour crisis worse,” said NFUS policy manager for crops, David Michie. He added that, although the Scottish horticultural sector only accounts for one per cent of the country’s land area, it is responsible for 16% of Scotland’s agricultural output.