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Dear Boris… Douglas Ross presses PM for three-fold increase in seasonal workers

Douglas Ross seasonal workers
Douglas Ross on a visit to East Seaton Farm, Arbroath.

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross has sent a second letter in as many months to Prime Minister Boris Johnson to ask for an increase in seasonal workers.

Soft fruit farmers and other industries reliant on overseas workers said current plans to allow 10,000 work permits to employees who do not meet the minimum requirements of the UK Government’s new visa scheme is not enough.

Mr Ross has written to Mr Johnson proposing 30,000 seasonal agricultural workers be allowed into the country from 2021 to meet demand.

The recently elected Scottish leader — who resigned from the UK Government following the Dominic Cummings “Barnard Castle fiasco” — initially wrote to Number 10 regarding the scheme at the end of October.

The Scottish Conservatives would not confirm if Mr Johnson had responded to Mr Ross’s first submission.

Douglas Ross seasonal workers
Boris Johnson and Douglas Ross ahead of the 2019 election.

‘Significant crop-loss’

The National Farmers’ Union Scotland (NFUS) horticulture committee chairman, James Porter, warned politicians recently of “significant crop loss” if a “fit for purpose” scheme is not introduced.

Our departure from the European Union – and subsequent end of free movement – leaves a clear gap in the supply and demand for labour.”

Douglas Ross, Scottish Conservative leader

Not just in Scotland are worker shortages feared — employers in rural areas in Cornwall, England, and arable pastures in Wales are concerned the number of workers coming in the summer will be insufficient.

The scheme was already increased, from 2,500 to the current 10,000 following pressure from farming lobbies and food producers.

‘Strong case for increase’

Mr Ross writes: “Over the past few weeks I have spoken to more farmers across Scotland, along with the industry bodies, who desperately want to see an expanded scheme.

“Our departure from the European Union – and subsequent end of free movement – leaves a clear gap in the supply and demand for labour to support our soft fruit industry in Scotland and across the UK.

Douglas Ross seasonal workers

“To that end, I believe there is a very strong case for an increase to at least 30,000 workers – and for this clarity to be provided with immediate effect.

“This would enable farmers across the country to prepare for the season ahead and ensure our world-class produce continues to make its way to supermarket shelves.

“As we have discussed previously, I do not believe the deeply regrettable, yet inevitable, increase in unemployment will have a profound impact on the ability of soft fruit farms to recruit locally.

“Whilst this year we saw an increase in the local workforce, the vast majority were recruited from out with the United Kingdom.

“The only option to safeguard the future of this industry is to expand the scheme the UK Government introduced in 2018.”

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