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Seasonal Skilled Labour (Discussions)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 13th December 2017.

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Photo of John Scott John Scott Conservative

7. I declare an interest as farmer.

To ask the Scottish Government what discussions it has had with the UK Government regarding establishing schemes that aim to attract more seasonal skilled labour across all sectors, such as the former seasonal agricultural workers scheme. (S5O-01600)

Photo of Jamie Hepburn Jamie Hepburn Scottish National Party

The United Kingdom Government’s position on migration post-Brexit is likely to have a major impact on the availability of labour, not just seasonal skilled workers but across the board in both high and low-skilled jobs. That is one of the reasons why the Scottish Government is lobbying the UK Government hard to maintain membership of the single market, with its associated free movement of citizens. Scotland values the contribution that temporary workers and the migrant community make to our economy and we are determined to do what we can to continue the current arrangements.

Photo of John Scott John Scott Conservative

The minister is aware that there is an emerging difficulty in attracting skilled labour to work in our food processing, tourism and agricultural sectors, as well as in other sectors. How does he intend to address that clearly defined and growing problem, which is currently driven by the fall in the value of the pound against the euro and threatens to undermine the future success of our tourism and food and drink sectors?

Photo of Jamie Hepburn Jamie Hepburn Scottish National Party

I am rather surprised that that question comes from a member on the Conservative benches, given the great pressure that is being caused as a result of his party’s shambolic handling of the Brexit process.

As I set out in my initial answer, we continue to lobby the UK Government hard, to ensure that we can continue to access the skilled labour from elsewhere in Europe that we will require for our economy. Of course, we cannot rely on just that, and we certainly cannot rely on the UK Government in that regard. I take the matter very seriously, as I know Fergus Ewing, the Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy and Connectivity, does. There is engagement between sector skills councils and Skills Development Scotland. If more can be done to ensure that we have the skilled workforce that we need for those sectors, we will work towards that. Indeed, I have already seen examples of that happening. Recently, I was up in Argyll and Bute, where I saw the local college actively engaging with the agricultural community to ensure the supply of a skilled workforce in future.