Fife councillors are backing farmers’ calls to immediately quadruple the proposed number of migrant workers allowed into the UK amid fears tonnes of fruit will rot in the region’s fields.
The council claims the Fife and Scottish agriculture industry would be in jeopardy unless urgent action is taken by Westminster to bring thousands of workers from outside the EU.
It has condemned the UK Government’s white paper on immigration, claiming it is based on “arbitrary and unmanageable” thresholds that would damage the local economy.
Liberal Democrat councillor Tim Brett said farmers in Fife and elsewhere were facing disaster.
The comments, during a motion passed by the full council, came as North East Fife Liberal Democrat MSP Willie Rennie branded the seasonal agricultural workers’ scheme a shambles.
Drawn up to mitigate the effects of Brexit, the scheme pledged to bring 2,500 workers from outside the EU to help staff fruit and vegetable farms across the UK.
Mr Rennie said the number involved was small, and claimed the scheme has effectively collapsed due to a three-week delay to the visa for workers from Ukraine.
Moldovan workers have declined to take part as the process is too complicated.
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“This is an absolute shambles,” Mr Rennie said.
“The scheme was only announced at the end of last year and has already shown itself to be inadequate to cope with the demand.
“Since the Brexit result in 2016, the farming industry in Fife has been struggling to fill the jobs to pick the fruit and vegetables.
“Last year, farmers were forced to throw away tonnes of soft fruit because of a lack of seasonal pickers. The latest problems have left farmers in the lurch again.”
Tom Wood from Allan Hill Farm in St Andrews said while the 2,500 workers for the scheme was nowhere near enough, he had felt it was a step in the right direction and had been delighted to be offered some of the people.
“We now face the fact we have strawberries turning red in the field and still have no indication when these workers will arrive,” he said.
“We are left to find alternative labour, which is extremely difficult.”
Last week, farmers in Fife and Tayside called for people on benefits to be allowed to pick fruit to avert the looming crisis.
Home Secretary Sajid Javid said he was committed to reducing immigration to sustainable levels while supporting immigration.