The Scottish Government has repeatedly requested that urgent action be taken on the shortage of heavy goods vehicle drivers. The Minister for Just Transition, Employment and Fair Work wrote to the United Kingdom Government in July to press that issue. We have also said to the UK Government that we want it to move to a 24-month temporary workers scheme to enable us to tackle the deeper issues that are at stake.
Scottish Government officials have maintained regular dialogue with their UK Government counterparts on the issue, which has been exacerbated by Brexit. The Minister for Transport is discussing the issue today with the UK Government’s Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Transport.
“The whole Scottish food and drink supply chain has been highlighting the crisis and the solutions needed for many weeks now”,
does the cabinet secretary agree that the sidelining of Scotland through the temporary visa scheme is yet more proof of the utter disdain with which Scotland’s interests are treated by the Tory Government at Westminster?
Scott Walker’s comments have been echoed in comments by the chief executive of Scotland Food & Drink, James Withers, who has indicated that the measures that the United Kingdom Government announced at the weekend are “too little, too late”.
We have indicated for a considerable time—indeed, since the whole debate around the European Union referendum in 2016—that, if we lost access to the free movement of individuals, there would be a significant and negative impact on the Scottish economy. That is exactly what is happening now because of the options and choices that have been taken by the United Kingdom Government. The damage that is being done to critical and valuable sectors of the Scottish economy, such as the seafood, fish processing and agricultural sectors, is an example of the wilful neglect in decision making by the United Kingdom Government.
The Conservative Government has faced repeated warnings that the immigration system would damage important sectors in Scotland, including by leaving our vital social care sector critically short of staff. Although migration powers are still reserved to Westminster, will the cabinet secretary outline what urgent action needs to be taken to fix the migration system so that it works for all parts of the UK?
There is a substantial point in Siobhian Brown’s question. We are facing acute shortages of labour in a range of sectors in the Scottish economy. Siobhian Brown mentioned the social care sector, which is an important sector in which it is difficult to recruit the necessary number of staff to support the patients and individuals whom we require to support. That is because of the choices that have been made in the implementation of the Brexit agreement and, in particular, the abolition of the free movement of individuals.
We are arguing that the previous European temporary leave to remain scheme should be implemented immediately, to allow European Union citizens to stay and work in the UK for up to three years. That is in addition to the proposals that I set out in my earlier answer on the steps in relation to the recruitment of staff. We need active measures that will overcome the damage that is being done by the abolition of free movement, and we need action to be taken immediately by the United Kingdom Government, recognising that immigration and migration are reserved issues.
The cabinet secretary will be aware that qualifying as an HGV driver is expensive, which prevents many people from entering the profession. Once young people are qualified, they find it hard to get a job because the insurance premiums for young drivers are eye watering. Is the cabinet secretary looking at ways to train young people to become HGV drivers, and is he speaking to insurance companies about the premiums for young drivers, especially in relation to smaller companies that do not have the economies of scale to make those manageable?
As Rhoda Grant will know, the Government has a range of financial measures in place to support training and recruitment of individuals. The transition training fund is designed to support individuals with additional costs. It can support them to gain particular qualifications and to enter particular sectors. That is one of a range of options in addition to the various education and training opportunities that are available.
I will take away Rhoda Grant’s point on insurance costs and will explore what the Government can do in that respect. Fundamentally, we must recognise that many of the challenges that we face relate to the acute shortage of labour, which has come about as a consequence of the decisions and choices that have been made around Brexit.