We Must Ensure EU Citizens Can Remain In Our Workforce

Stewart Nicol, chief executive, Inverness Chamber of Commerce

The continuing uncertainty over Brexit and, therefore, movement of workers from EU, makes a meeting in Inverness next week very timely.

On 10 December Inverness Chamber of Commerce is hosting a round-table event with Ben Macpherson MSP, the Minister for Europe, Migration and International Development, and a range of business sectors with an interest in this key issue.

The meeting will explore how businesses could benefit from changes to the current immigration system, with the Scottish Government keen to get views on a specific Scottish approach to migration.

This could include a ‘Scottish visa’ within the current points-based system, as well as other ideas members would like to see if further powers on migration were devolved to the Scottish Government.

These issues are not only worth discussing, it is essential we get them resolved as soon as possible for the benefit of employees, employers and the economy.

Scotland has different demographic pressures than other parts of the UK and wants to attract people to live and work here for the long term.

EU citizens make a vital contribution to the public sector in Scotland and help address skills shortages with 17.6 per cent employed in public administration, education and health, including in NHS Scotland where they fill skilled vacancies in hard-to-recruit specialisms and geographical regions. Many also work in social care and much of the hospitality industry’s workforce now includes employees from EU countries.

A Scottish Government discussion paper published earlier this year www.gov.scot/publications/scotlands-population-needs-migration-policy/pages/5/

showed inward migration is key to developing Scotland's population, particularly the working age population, and in turn our economic performance.

It stated that there are now 219,000 EU nationals in the country, 4.1 per cent of the population, and that 61 per cent are under 35 years old of age (compared to 42 per cent for Scotland as a whole). More than 77 per cent are in employment (compared with an overall rate for Scotland of 73 per cent) and over 35 per cent of working age are qualified to degree level or above.

Some 24,000 EU nationals work in tourism in Scotland (13 per cent of all those who work in the sector) and 10,000 are in food and drink (12 per cent of all those working in the sector).

Free movement has been essential, with skilled and unskilled labour helping to tackle employment needs in many parts of the country.

We need to ensure they are able to continue to be part of our workforce post-Brexit. Many businesses depend on these workers and having a clear policy on their future would remove uncertainty for both the employees and the businesses that rely so heavily on them.