The Home Office has been accused of sabotaging the success of a foreign workers scheme which is designed to supply essential labour to pick this year’s fruit and vegetable crops.
The UK Government’s Seasonal Workers Pilot (SWP) scheme, which allows workers to spend six months in the UK, was extended from 10,000 to 30,000 people this year after extensive lobbying by the farmers’ unions.
However fruit growers are frustrated that they can not apply for staff to pick rapidly ripening crops crops because they have not been told which labour recruitment companies have been selected to source the extra workers.
James Porter, who grows soft fruit near Carnoustie, said the selection process for two new companies had begun in January and the names of the successful operators were already an open secret in the industry.
“So why keep the identities of the new companies a secret and prevent growers from applying for labour? To me its being deliberately obstructive; they’re trying to sabotage the scheme,” he said.
“It’s well known the Home Office never wanted to increase seasonal workers above 10,000.
“It now looks as though we are going to have shortages of labour again this year. It was bad enough last year, but we were able to access local labour as many people were in lockdown, which isn’t the case this year.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “It is absolutely right that due diligence is applied to this process and we have always been clear that it will take up to six months to select additional scheme operators.
“An announcement will be made in due course but we expect them to be in place before peak production periods, during which we see the highest demand for seasonal workers.”
However NFU Scotland’s horticulture committee chairman, Ian Brown, who grows fruit in Fife, pointed out Scottish soft fruit growers needed most workers to arrive in May ahead of the main season in June.
“The consequence of the delay is that the extended scheme will be of no benefit to fruit growers in Scotland this year,” he said.
“Something is obstructing the scheme from achieving what it is supposed to achieve.”
The two companies already licensed to recruit workers from overseas are Concordia and Pro-Force Limited. The deadline to apply for a licence was January 29, and while one Scottish co-operative applied, their bid was successful, so all four operators will be based in England.