Labour Shortages

– in the Scottish Parliament on 11th May 2022.

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Photo of Alex Rowley Alex Rowley Labour

8. To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to address reported shortages in the labour market. (S6O-01069)

Photo of Ivan McKee Ivan McKee Scottish National Party

The Scottish Government recognises that employers across many sectors are experiencing significant challenges in attracting and retaining workers.

As the member knows, I spend a considerable amount of time engaging with businesses across all sectors that are covered by my portfolio and beyond. In almost every engagement that I have with business, the issue of labour market shortages is raised.

The Tories’ hard Brexit, which removed freedom of labour, has adversely impacted on many sectors, because many people from the European Union have left Scotland. Now, because of Tory immigration policies, they are not coming here in large numbers. That has resulted in a reduction in the labour market and a loss of skills as a consequence.

We have called on the United Kingdom Government to establish a joint task force on labour market shortages but, so far, it has failed to engage with us on that, just as it has failed to engage with us on our calls to devolve immigration. We believe that devolving that area is the right approach, so that the Scottish Government can make the most appropriate decisions in order to supply the labour market with the necessary skills to support Scottish businesses across all those sectors.

We continue to work with businesses and sectors to do all that we can to mitigate those shortages, with a focus on employability, skills and our important fair work agenda.

Photo of Alex Rowley Alex Rowley Labour

The sector that I want to focus on is health and social care, which is a public service that is delivered directly through public provision and through the private sector. There is a major recruitment and retention problem in the sector, and older people up and down Scotland are suffering as a result.

I have met many people who work in the private sector and many private sector companies, and they tell me that they simply cannot recruit and retain staff because of the poor terms and conditions and poor wages. Health and social care is a public service and you have the powers over it in this Parliament so, instead of trying to deliver care on the cheap, will you put the money into the sector that is needed in order to address the retention and recruitment problems?

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

I remind members that they should speak through the chair.

Photo of Ivan McKee Ivan McKee Scottish National Party

That issue is identified across a range of sectors. Health and social care is a very important part of that, and that sector has experienced significant challenges as a consequence of the tight labour market, which is primarily due to the Tory Government’s approach to Brexit and immigration. We continue to call for devolution of those powers to allow us to bring more people into Scotland to fulfil those roles.

The member will be aware that in the sector, the terms and conditions are significantly better than they are in other parts of the UK, which is something that the Scottish Government believes is important and has acted on.

I am sure that the member talks to businesses in his constituency. Only yesterday, I had discussions with the tourism, leisure and hospitality sector, which is facing the same challenges, as is the construction sector and every other sector across Scotland’s economy, due to a shortage of labour. As I indicated, we continue to call on the UK Government to address those challenges by removing barriers to immigration, because sectors are calling for sector-specific or wider visa systems to allow that to happen.

With regard to the aspects over which we have control, the Scottish Government is also taking action to increase supply into the labour market. If the member has read our new 10-year strategy for economic transformation, which I am sure he has, he will know that labour market availability and tackling those challenges form one of the projects that is set out in the strategy. It talks about what we are doing to understand the labour market inactivity statistics in Scotland and what we can do to enable more people of working age who are not in the labour market and are not currently registered as unemployed to take part in the labour market. We can do that through childcare provision and a range of other measures—

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Minister, you need to wind up your response. There are a number of supplementaries that I want to get through.

Photo of Ivan McKee Ivan McKee Scottish National Party

I will stop there, but I am sure that the issue will be picked up in the supplementaries.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Thank you, minister. Leave the chair to manage the time. If I need you to talk us through to the end of portfolio question time, I will let you know.

Photo of Jamie Halcro Johnston Jamie Halcro Johnston Conservative

In his answer to Alex Rowley, the minister mentioned skills. In January, Audit Scotland set out a number of failings of and a lack of strategic direction from the Scottish Government on skills alignment. Given the importance of reskilling and upskilling, and a restricted labour market, will the minister outline what work the Government is undertaking to ensure that reskilling and upskilling become a reality, and what planning is taking place to ensure that skills provision is well targeted to the needs of Scotland’s economy?

Photo of Ivan McKee Ivan McKee Scottish National Party

The member is right that skills provision is hugely important across all sectors. If he has read our 10-year economic transformation strategy, he will be aware that there is a pillar in it that is devoted to skills and ensuring that we work on our skills provision. Across Scotland—in schools, colleges and universities—we are focusing on ensuring that individuals have the skills that they need for the jobs and sectors of the future and are able to transition from employment in fossil fuel sectors to sectors in the renewable and green economy. A whole range of measures and significant funding are being applied to deliver on those challenges.

Photo of Evelyn Tweed Evelyn Tweed Scottish National Party

The Scottish Government’s work to attract people to Scotland is very welcome because expanding Scotland’s talent pool will play an important part in meeting our economic ambitions. However, does the minister agree that the UK immigration system is failing to meet Scotland’s needs, and that the best way to ensure that we can expand Scotland’s talent pool is by having the necessary power in our hands?

Photo of Ivan McKee Ivan McKee Scottish National Party

The UK Government’s immigration policy fails to address Scotland’s distinct long-term demographic and economic needs, which highlights the need for a tailored approach to migration. The Scottish Government will continue to develop practical, deliverable, evidence-based migration proposals that suit Scotland’s needs.

Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party

Thank you. I had given up hope, Presiding Officer; not in relation to you, but of getting to ask a question. I am digging a hole, so I will stop.

I noted the exchange between the minister and Alex Rowley regarding the impact of Brexit on certain labour markets. I have raised the issue of the shortage of bus drivers across the Scottish Borders, and no doubt elsewhere, due to the impact of Brexit. However, drivers are not on the shortage occupation list, and it is disheartening to hear that the UK Government is not discussing the issue with ministers in Scotland. Is there any hope that lorry drivers and bus drivers will be put on the shortage occupation list in early course?

Photo of Ivan McKee Ivan McKee Scottish National Party

As the member indicated, we have, so far, failed to persuade the UK Government of our case. In that sector, as in many other sectors across Scotland’s economy, there are significant labour challenges. We will continue to press the UK Government to put those occupations on the shortage list.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

That concludes portfolio question time. I thank members and the ministerial team for allowing us to get through them all.