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Brexit / Concerns raised over the impact of immigration plans

Hospitality and social care could suffer

Isleshavn care centre today. Photo SICIsleshavn Care Centre.

THE ACTING boss of social care in Shetland has hailed the “vital” work of EU migrants across care services following the government’s announcement of its controversial immigration plans.

Low paid workers in the health and social care sector are amongst those who stand to be shut out of the UK labour market under a revised scheme of eligibility for a British work visa now that the country has left the EU.

Freedom of movement and labour rules which have enabled people from across the EU to travel and work wherever they want come to an end this year. A new points scheme to determine right to work in Britain is proposed for EU nationals instead from 2021.

That could have an impact on the provision of care, particularly for vulnerable adults. Isles’ social care services have been helping staff achieve “settled status” to stave off a staffing shortfall once transitional measures cease.

Interim director of community health and social care Jo Robinson said that “further barriers to filling vacant posts would not help us to deliver services for the many vulnerable adults in Shetland who need support”.

Interim head of social care Jo Robinson.

She added that NHS Shetland and its partner in social care, Shetland Islands Council, “appreciate and value all our staff – and we acknowledge the enormous contribution our colleagues from the EU have made and continue to make across the health and care services”.

“Many in our teams would be classified as ‘unskilled’ EU workers yet they play a vital role in helping us to deliver services – especially in areas where we battle to recruit,” Robinson said.

“We are assisting many of our EU employees to apply for settled status as we want them and need them to stay in Shetland.”

The hotel and hospitality trade also stands to be hard hit with one businessman saying that politicians have no sense of “reality” about the consequences of reduced migration, which has been forecast to have a “devastating” effect on the Scottish economy.

Brudolff Hotels Group managing director Robert Smith said that while he could understand the government’s need to be seen to deliver on election promises the plans were “ill thought through and without any sense of awareness of the reality of life on the ground.”

Smith, whose group includes the Shetland, Lerwick and Kveldsro hotels, added: “The hospitality industry is well known as an industry which needs staff from abroad; we always try to recruit locally first, but when there is a shortage, then we use foreign staff; and there is always a shortage.”

The company’s recruitment drives on the mainland in the 1990s had enjoyed mixed success.

Smith added: “The opening up of the eastern Europe option in 2004 was a godsend to us and no doubt most other hospitality businesses; maybe when there is no one to serve them their coffee, lunch or dinner in London there will be a slow awareness of the reality.”

He urged everyone to make sure the government understood the “folly” of what it was proposing.

He added: “They can achieve what they want to achieve by other means for example give a visa to someone who can show they have a job offer; but this smacks of a serious lack of understanding of what it is like day to day in recruitment.”

Orkney and Shetland MP, Alistair Carmichael, dubbed the policy “shortsighted” and ill-thought through.

Northern Isles MP Alistair Carmichael.Alistair Carmichael dubbed the policy ‘shortsighted’. Photo: Shetland News

He added: “I am concerned about how these immigration proposals were developed. To call the thinking behind the policy short-sighted is an understatement.

“As the son of farmers and having worked in the hotel trade before going into politics, I know all too well the harm that a blunt-force approach to immigration could have for these industries, amongst others. Small local businesses reliant on a flexible approach to employment risk bearing the costs of this policy.”

Carmichael added that he had been contacted by “many constituents” concerned about the “sweeping changes” the immigration rules could have on island communities.

He said: “Even setting aside the potential harm to the cultural fabric of the isles, the long-term viability of some inhabited islands could be at risk. I will be making the case to the Government that the needs of our communities need to be considered before any such major changes are made.”

Shetland MSP Beatrice Wishart said the immigration policy plans were set to have a negative impact on efforts to grow the Isles’ working age population.

She said: “The people who chose to come to Shetland are valued and more people should be encouraged to make the isles their home.

“I understand the concerns of the NHS, hospitality, fish processing sector – and others – about the speed at which these changes are supposed to take place and the bureaucracy that will hit local businesses.

“It can already be a challenge recruiting to fill posts in small rural communities. It will be all the more challenging with the burden of salary threshold.”

The Prospect union’s senior deputy general secretary Sue Ferns said: “It’s disappointing that the government has chosen to continue to pursue this dogmatic approach to immigration instead of listening properly to the needs of workers and business.

“Salary thresholds are the wrong way to get the kind of immigration our economy needs….many essential skilled roles like laboratory and pharmaceuticals technicians will still not meet the level required.

“It is hard to see how this doesn’t make Britain a smaller, poorer and less successful country in the future.”

The government plans to put EU and non-EU workers on an equal footing after 31 December, with a wider ambition of getting some of the millions of “economically inactive” Britons into the workforce.

That has been slammed by the SNP as a “ridiculous or dangerous idea”, as many in this group were suffering “ill health or injury”.

The latest statistics (for 2018) show that 45.6 per cent of disabled people aged 16-64 were employed, compared with 81.1 per cent of non-disabled people, with the employment gap between the two sectors decreasing to 35.5 percentage points.

Scottish cabinet secretary for the constitution Mike Russell said the UK Government was “determined to pursue a destructive and damaging hard Brexit” with no consideration for or consultation with Scottish interests.

Labour, meanwhile, said that a “hostile environment” would make it difficult to attract workers.

Scotland Office minister Douglas Ross said that the pan-UK system “will work for Scotland and the whole of the UK”.

Under the plan, the definition of skilled workers would be expanded to include those with A-level/Scottish Higher-equivalent standard, and not just to university graduate level, as at present.

Waiting tables and certain types of agricultural worker would be removed from the new skilled category, but new additions would include carpentry, plastering and childminding.

The salary threshold for skilled workers wanting to come to the UK would be reduced from £30,000 to £25,600, but it could be as low as £20,480 for people in “specific shortage occupations”, including nursing.