UK government immigration restrictions must be relaxed to allow more foreign labour to help on Scotland’s farms, Douglas Ross is urging Westminster colleagues.
The Scottish Conservative leader believes additional leeway should be added to the UK Government’s seasonal agricultural workers scheme to meet the country’s needs.
Under the current post-Brexit rules, up to 10,000 seasonal workers would be granted permission to come into the UK next year to work in industries including soft-fruit picking.
But the National Union of Farmers Scotland (NUFS) says the UK allocation is not enough and claims 70,000 workers will be needed next summer, with 10,000 of those at least in Scotland.
Mr Ross said he had been working with cabinet colleagues in Westminster, including Home Secretary Priti Patel and George Eustice, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, about the issue.
Speaking at East Seaton Farms in Arbroath during a visit, Mr Ross told us he would continue to agree with farmers’ demands on numbers.
“No, 10,000 is not enough”
He said: “It is something which is really important for Scotland and the UK. We have seen the NFU in Scotland, England and Wales calling for more workers to be added to the scheme.
“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. We have excellent produce in Scotland and we have to get it out to customers, which means we need ample people out to pick the fruit.
“The government is looking at this just now. I have been in contact with George Eustice and Scottish Secretary Alister Jack and the home secretary also. The scheme was one of the issues I raised with all of the secretaries of state and the prime minister at the round table meeting to make sure we have ample staff to pick fruit across the country.”
No need for governments to keep fighting
When asked how workers from outside the UK could be attracted to the country to work, in particular after Brexit was completed, he added: “I really want to see Scotland’s two governments working together. The pandemic is a crisis being felt by all European governments.
“Like we have seen with city and region growth deals, when the two governments combine their efforts they can provide far more for people.
“We don’t need to endlessly pick fights between the two.”