UK ministers have turned down almost 20 invites to discuss the “failures” of the seasonal workers scheme and labour shortages in the food and drink sector, the Scottish Government has claimed.
Rural Affairs cabinet secretary Mairi Gougeon responded to questions in Holyrood on Thursday, where she said UK Minister’s had responded negatively to 19 invites to discuss issues surrounding the programme.
Introduced as a result of Brexit, the UK Government has had to make multiple changes to the seasonal workers programme, following interventions from farmers, food producers and even the leader of the Scottish Conservatives.
Most recently, industry representatives Scotland Food and Drink and Food and Drink Federation Scotland (FDF) stressed concerns on labour shortages brought about by the Covid pandemic and Brexit.
In a survey of businesses, FDF Scotland and the Scotland Food and Drink partnership said 93% had vacancies and 97% of them would find it difficult to fill them in future.
In a joint letter, the industry bodies called on both the Scottish and UK Governments to “play their own parts to support recruitment in the sector”.
Scheme ‘not working’
Asked what discussions the Scottish Government had with Westminster, Ms Gougeon noted the number of turned-down responses they had received.
She said: “Food production is essential to the success of our economy.
“The edible horticulture sector has to be equipped with the specific tools in order for it to flourish.
“Unfortunately, the seasonal workers scheme is not working for employers or workers.
“Scottish ministers have listened to the sector and on March 16 the minister for rural affairs and the minister for Europe wrote to the UK immigration minister, urging him to make the necessary improvements to make it fit for purpose.
“Despite migration impacting on devolved areas, the UK immigration minister has refused to recognise the interests of this parliament and the role of the Scottish Government — failing to respond positively to 19 requests for meetings from the Scottish Government minister with responsibility for migration.
“I’ve also written to the UK Government this week, to highlight the impact on existing labour and skills shortages on the food and drink industry. I await a response.”
The UK Government was approached for comment.