Farron: Migration has to be part of the solution to labour shortages

30 September 2022

Addressing labour shortages is a good place for economic growth. I’m glad there seems to be – from media headlines at least – some recognition by the prime minister that migration has to be part of the solution. These shortages are visible up and down our country, in sectors from agricultural to hospitality, from construction to health and social care…the list goes on.

Tourism and hospitality are a major part of rural economies in areas like my constituency. We still have to deal with the issue of skills, recruitment, and retention. If you’ve visited the Lake District, it’s most likely that you saw reduced opening hours in cafes and restaurants because they just don’t have the staff.

In the years that I’ve been raising this issue with the Conservative government, I’m repeatedly told that the answer is with the education and training of our UK workforce. While I agree that we must first look at our local workforce, employers in Cumbria have tried a variety of things to attract workers over the past 12 months, including increasing wages, providing better training and acquiring accommodation to allow staff to live on-site.

Cumbria Tourism has also been working closely with Department for Work and Pensions – supporting careers events and working with partners to engage directly with schools and colleges. Despite these initiatives, businesses in my area are struggling to survive, or even closing down. This has a major impact on the local economy, as people lose their jobs.

It is essential that worker protection be considered if we plan to recruit from overseas. Routes such as the seasonal worker scheme – where workers are tied to an employer and do not have the freedom to change employers – are open to worker exploitation. Recent reports of Indonesian workers on a UK-based farm at risk from debt bondage are alarming.

One option is the youth mobility visa, which allows workers to freely move between sectors and employers. I’ve raised the expansion of this route with immigration ministers but as yet we haven’t seen it expand sufficiently. Last week, I wrote to Suella Braverman, the new home secretary, asking for a meeting on youth mobility visas in order to address the labour shortage in Cumbria.