Scottish farms are being let down by Westminster’s “ambivalence” to the industry’s recruiting concerns, a senior MP has claimed.
Farms north of the border employ tens of thousands of non-UK nationals in seasonal positions in the soft fruit and vegetable sectors each year.
Under the current post-Brexit rules, up to 10,000 seasonal workers are to be granted permission to come into the UK – but the National Union of Farmers Scotland (NUFS) has warned 70,000 workers will be needed next summer.
Ministers have previously argued that British workers could fill the roles, but the NFU said efforts to recruit UK workers when lockdown restrictions ruled out foreign workers were “not as successful as hoped”.
Angus SNP MP Dave Doogan accused ministers of “turning a blind eye to the clear and well-evidenced challenges of moving to domestic labour capacity for these roles”.
He said: “The horticulture industry is crucial to my constituency of Angus, and Scotland more widely, and represents a valuable element of our economic output and Scotland’s world-famous brand.
“There is growing concern within the wider horticulture industry across the UK at the government’s failure to provide a timely and realistic plan for a successor to the Seasonal Worker Pilot.
“Feeding this concern is the government’s apparent ambivalence to the actual operational requirements of the industry in favour of political considerations surrounding immigration figures – now compounded by their naïve expectation that an anticipated rise in unemployment in the next few months will meet ongoing labour requirements.”
‘We are still waiting for answers’
The SNP agriculture spokesman added: “Whilst growers took it upon themselves this year to recruit locally as far as possible, the outcome was not an overtly successful one – and it’s clear from the UK Government’s recent indications that it is turning a blind eye to the clear and well-evidenced challenges of relying on domestic labour for these roles.
“The costs of recruiting and training domestic workers at scale, who will quite appropriately leave to take up new, year-round jobs closer to home, will fall on the producers and processors.
“The Secretary of State said that his department and the Home Office ‘have been working closely’ over the operation and evaluation of the Seasonal Workers Pilot and that they will publish their findings in due course.
“We are still waiting for answers. Certainly, for growers, those answers are well overdue and there can be no further delay.”
Last week Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross also called on his Westminster colleagues to address the issue of seasonal workers.
He said: “I don’t think 10,000 is enough, we need to go to beyond that and it is something I have made the case for.”
A UK Government spokesperson said: “The UK has a highly resilient food supply chain and we are continuing to work hard to ensure our farmers and growers have the support and workforce they need.