Highland Council’s leader has sharply criticised the UK Government’s White Paper on immigration, saying it will leave Highland with serious population and economic challenges.
Councillor Margaret Davidson said the White Paper’s tone was extremely discouraging to the kind of inward migrants Highland industries such as construction, fish farming and tourism desperately need, favouring only those with capital.
The paper demands guaranteed income levels of above £30,000 before anyone can be considered for migration to the UK.
Mrs Davidson said: “That is a very high figure for the Highlands – but the UK Government is discouraging any regional variations to its policy. It doesn’t seem to accept that regions like Highland and for that matter, parts of Cornwall, Devon, Wales and Northern Ireland are reliant on inward migration to fill jobs.”
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Mrs Davidson was speaking ahead of today’s Scottish Cities Alliance round table on immigration with Scottish Government migration minister Ben Macpherson in Edinburgh.
She said: “Although we’ve had population growth in Highland for years, it’s been focused around the Inner Moray Firth, with more remote areas suffering population decline.
“Now over the region as a whole deaths are beginning to outweigh births, so faced with this we need to keep the population up through inward migration.
“The British Isles are facing this as a whole but the UK government says we have to solve the problems underlying population decline ourselves.
“Turning around depopulation is a job for a generation, not something you can solve overnight.”
Mrs Davidson said meanwhile the council would leave no stone unturned to support Highland’s existing EU worker population, including the 5% within the council.
She said: “The Federation of Small Business showed recently 41% of Highland’s tourism workers are from the EU, as opposed to 25% in the rest of Scotland. I’m concerned about filling jobs this coming summer.”
A UK Government spokesman said: “The Immigration White Paper provides a strong foundation for delivering what businesses and individuals in Scotland want – a UK-wide immigration system with the flexibility to meet the needs of all sectors of the economy in all parts of the country.
“Our 12 month engagement with business will allow us to develop a future immigration system which addresses the specific economic and demographic needs in Scotland.
“At the same time, the Scottish Government must do more to shoulder their share of the responsibility for making Scotland an attractive place for people to live, work and put down roots.”