Scottish Government not informed about seasonal workers scheme, minister claims

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The Scottish Government was not informed about Westminster proposals which will allow farms to employ a limited number of seasonal migrant workers, Constitution Secretary Mike Russell said.

Despite having made “repeated representations” to UK ministers on the issue, Mr Russell said he only found out about the announcement when he read it on a news website.

Meanwhile, fellow SNP MSP Stewart Stevenson branded the plans a “two-fingered salute to our soft fruit farmers”.

Home Secretary Sajid Javid has confirmed British farmers will be able to recruit up to 2,500 migrants a year under a new seasonal work scheme.

Strawberry farm
The Home Secretary said the Government is committed to helping fruit growers (Owen Humphreys/PA)

While UK ministers believe it will help tackle labour shortages in seasonal agricultural sectors, such as the soft fruits industry in Scotland, industry bodies have estimated some 75,000 temporary migrant workers are required.

Mr Javid said: “British farmers are vital to the UK’s economy – and the Government will look to support them in any way we can.

“This pilot will ensure farmers have access to the seasonal labour they need to remain productive and profitable during busy times of the year.”

The announcement came after Scots Tory MP Kirstene Hair pressed the Home Secretary on the issue.

Scottish Secretary David Mundell insisted the Government had “listened to the views of farmers in Scotland and across the UK”.

He added: “Many of Scotland’s farms, in particular our soft fruit growers, rely on seasonal workers. This pilot is a welcome first step in ensuring that Scottish farmers can continue to access the workers they need to grow and harvest their produce.”

Mr Russell said he had only read details of the scheme online, and had not been informed about it by UK ministers.

He told MSPs on Holyrood’s Europe Committee: “The announcement on the seasonal workers scheme we read about on the BBC website, we’ve not seen it before, although we have been deeply engaged on that issue.”

This was despite it being “an issue on which I have made repeated representations”, he added.

Constitutional Relations Secretary Mike Russell (Jane Barlow/PA)

He also tweeted that the scheme “confirms freedom of movement essential for many industries particularly in Scotland” and said the “grudging language in the announcement shows the hostility to migration at heart of UK Government”.

Mr Stevenson, the MSP for Banffshire and Buchan Coast, added: “The Tories should hang their heads in shame. The industry has been calling for action since the Brexit vote over two years ago and what has been delivered is nothing short of insulting – a two-fingered salute to our soft fruit farmers.

“We’ve known for some time that all of Scotland’s fruit and vegetable growers have faced great challenges recruiting labour over the past year, and any Government action should have been bold and swift to address the matter head on.

“We need to remember that what is on the line here is people’s livelihoods and jobs. This pitiful solution from the Tories is – in the words of fruit growers themselves – too little, too late.

“It’s time the Scottish Parliament was given the relevant powers over immigration to build a better system which actually works for Scotland and our rural economy.”

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