Tech sector attacks plans for '˜foreign workers list'

Senior figures in Scotland's technology sector have attacked UK government proposals to make companies list their foreign employees.

Administrate chief executive John Peebles said Amber Rudd's proposals were 'divisive and short-sighted'. Picture: Colin Hattersley

With the government beating an embarrassing retreat on the flagship initiative – unveiled by Home Secretary Amber Rudd at last week’s Conservative Party conference – entrepreneurs were scathing about the fact it was ever considered seriously.

John Peebles, chief executive of education software company Administrate, said about half of the firm’s employees were non-UK citizens, while more than a third of its 40-strong workforce in Edinburgh were foreigners.

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“All of us are in Scotland for the opportunity to build a better life, and we’re deeply proud to be a Scottish company, backed by Scottish investors, serving a growing international client base,” said Peebles, who was born in the US.

He added: “Our team, and their diversity, is the reason behind our success as a company, and I was shocked and dismayed at the divisive, short-sighted, and alarming comments regarding foreigners as if they’re to blame for anything other than contributing to the UK.

“On a personal level, I consider Scotland to be my home, and as an American and an alien I’ve always appreciated the warm welcome myself and other foreigners have received here, and was proud to hear that the Scottish Government does not share in this destructive sentiment. If the UK wants to build world-class companies it’s going to require people from all over the world. I’m proud of my team, and I will never be ashamed of our diversity.”

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His comments were echoed by Harald Haas, the German-born co-founder and chief scientific officer of pureLiFi, a spin-out from the University of Edinburgh that uses light to transmit information.

“It is not the Britain I knew when I came here; It’s changed,” Haas told The Scotsman.

“I’ve been educated in Germany – the German taxpayer has paid a lot of money for my education but now I’m in Scotland, and Scotland is benefiting from that, and people should be more open-minded about the world as a whole. If you look at our workforce, we have people from everywhere in Europe.”

UK government ministers have been forced to rule out making companies “name and shame” foreign workers after the plans attracted widespread criticism.

Defence secretary Sir Michael Fallon and education secretary Justine Greening insisted the information was aimed at improving government investment in skills training, and said it would never be made public or used for “naming and shaming”.

David Cameron’s former senior adviser, Steve Hilton, branded the plans as “divisive, repugnant, and insanely bureaucratic” – a view shared by former education secretary Nicky Morgan.

Asked if she would endorse Hilton’s view of the policy as repugnant, Morgan said: “Yes, I probably would, actually. I think it’s a really inadvisable way to proceed.”