UK Government guilty of ‘wilful neglect’ over labour shortages harming Scottish economy – John Swinney

The UK Government was today accused of “wilful neglect” over labour shortages caused by Brexit that are “damaging” key sectors of the Scottish economy.

The charge from Deputy First Minister John Swinney came hours after UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps admitted Brexit had been a "factor" in the current fuel crisis, in which a shortage of lorry drivers has caused supply problems and triggered panic buying at filling stations.

Mr Swinney told MSPs: "The damage that is being done to critical sectors in the Scottish economy – seafood, fish processing to name just two – are wilful examples of the neglect in the decision making that’s been arrived at by the United Kingdom Government.

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‘Exactly what is now happening’

This Asda filling station in Dundee limited motorists to £30 of fuel today. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

“We have been indicating for some considerable time that if we lost access to free movement of individuals, there would be a significant and negative impact on the Scottish economy.

"That is exactly what is now happening because of the options and choices made by the UK Government.”

Mr Swinney was reacting to groups such as Scotland Food and Drink dismissing measures announced by the UK Government at the weekend as too little and too late.

Mr Shapps said a temporary visa scheme would see 5,000 HGV drivers and 5,500 poultry workers brought in on three-month contracts in an attempt to ease the shortages.

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Mr Swinney said: “The Scottish Government has repeatedly requested the need for urgent action to be taken regarding the shortage of HGV drivers.”

He said: "We are facing acute shortages of labour in a range of sectors in the Scottish economy.”

Mr Swinney said problem areas included social care, where it was proving difficult to recruit enough staff “because of the choices that have been made in the implementation of the Brexit agreement and particularly the abolition of free movement of individuals.”

He said: "We are arguing for the previous European temporary leave to remain scheme should be implemented immediately to allow EU citizens to stay and work in the UK for up to three years.

“We need to have active measures that will overcome the damage done by the abolition of free movement and we need that action to be undertaken immediately by the UK Government.”

Brexit ‘has worked both ways’

Mr Shapps said the primary cause of the shortages had been the cancellation of HGV driver testing last year due to the pandemic.

However, he added: "Brexit I hear mentioned a lot and it no doubt will have been a factor.

"On the other hand, it has actually helped us to change rules to be able to test more drivers more quickly.

"So, it has actually worked in both ways."

A UK Government spokesperson said: “We are closely monitoring labour supply and working with sector leaders to understand how we can best ease particular pinch points.

"Similar challenges are being faced by other countries around the world.

“We want to see employers make long-term investments in the UK domestic workforce instead of relying on labour from abroad.

"Our Plan for Jobs is helping people across the country retrain, build new skills and get back into work.

“The Government encourages all sectors to make employment more attractive to UK domestic workers through offering training, careers options wage increases and investment.”

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