SOCIAL CARE

THE social care sector will ‘‘implode and damage the entire economy’’ if the UK Government goes ahead with its immigration plans.

The stark warning has been given by Dr Donald Macaskill, CEO of Scottish Care, the representative body of the independent social care sector in Scotland.

Speaking to the Sunday National after the controversial plans were announced last week, Macaskill said: “What has been lost in all of this narrative is that this is the fourth economically contributive sector to the Scottish economy, with more people employed than in agriculture, fisheries and life sciences.

“If we are not able to sustain this sector, then the whole economic well-being of the country is going to suffer. The fact that our economy will go backwards because of these proposals means it is everybody’s job to care about care, but at the moment we have a government in Westminster showing no evidence of that.”

There are around 17,000 non-UK EU nationals working in Scotland in health and social care services, with 9830 in the social care sector alone. Vacancy rates currently stand at 38%, according to the Coalition of Care and Support Providers in Scotland.

Meanwhile, there is a “real danger” that the “toxic atmosphere” created by the way the proposals have been handled are likely to drive away those who are working here, according to Macaskill.

The National: Dr Donald MacaskillDr Donald Macaskill

“What is happening now is that service providers are saying this is causing a considerable amount of unsettlement for existing staff,” he said. “The way in which it has been handled by Westminster and the conduct and rhetoric around it has created a toxic atmosphere which is unsettling for the EEA nationals in Scotland at the moment. We are at a real danger of risking the staff we already have.

“There has also been a very negative response to all this talk about the jobs being low skilled. We are in the midst of a huge campaign funded by the Scottish Government trying to attract people in to the sector and it ill serves everybody to discuss care in those terms. We need responsibility on the part of politicians.

“We are calling on them to make the social care sector a special category with its needs prioritised – otherwise there will be an implosion of the whole system.”

READ MORE: What points-based plans will mean for Dumfries and Galloway

Macaskill has now written an open letter to Scots Tory leader Jackson Carlaw, asking him to intervene and put the care sector’s case to Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Home Secretary Priti Patel.

In it, he points out that nine out of ten of the organisation’s members have vacancies for staff they can’t fill. This includes levels of nurse vacancies in some care homes in excess of 30%.

“We are, therefore, as a sector, facing a critical shortage of staff,” stated Macaskill. “This is felt most especially in some of the most rural and remote areas of Scotland.”

He pointed out that Scotland’s ageing population has increasing levels of health needs and an ageing and reducing pool of workers.

“Without inward migration we simply will not have sufficient staff to undertake these essential roles,” said Macaskill.

“The announcements on Wednesday brought us particular dismay. Our representations have simply not been heard or acknowledged.

READ MORE: UK passports will change to blue colour this March

“I would contend that unless there are significant changes to the current proposals then the provision of essential life preserving care and support across Scotland will become impossible.”

Age Scotland chief executive Brian Sloan said the proposals failed to recognise the urgent needs of the care sector and an ageing population.

“Age Scotland’s research found that 40% of older people are already waiting too long for the care package they desperately need. We heard only last week that delayed discharges are at sky-high levels, with at least nine Scots dying in hospital each week waiting for a care package in their community. Restricting the ability of care workers to come to Scotland could tip this into a full-blown crisis, with a serious impact on health and quality of life.

The National: Brian SloanBrian Sloan

“While the Scottish Government has shown a willingness to listen and to tackle the problems facing social care, we have still to hear from the UK Government about what they propose to do to stop this situation reaching a critical level.

“We have previously sought a meeting with the Secretary of State for Scotland to discuss these implications and produced analysis for him which clearly demonstrated the consequences, but it has been met with radio silence.”

He added: “Care providers are already under enormous strain, struggling to recruit and retain appropriately skilled staff. The lack of recognition of their huge value and skill is insulting.

“The UK Government’s decision not to class social care as a ‘shortage occupation’ is baffling, and the proposals published last week will only exacerbate the recruitment challenges the sector already faces.”

AGRICULTURE

DEMANDS for Scotland to be given its own immigration powers have been backed by the country’s largest farming union.

Condemning the immigration plans announced by Westminster last week, National Farmers Union Scotland said that if they were implemented, Holyrood should be allowed to set its own policies.

The union has previously been in favour of a UK-wide approach to immigration but now says the UK Government has disregarded the evidence about what was required.

President Andrew McCornick warned that food and drink –Scotland’s biggest manufacturing sector – would be damaged if the proposals went ahead as planned next year.

“NFU Scotland has always maintained that a UK-wide approach to immigration would be preferable,” he said.

The National: Andrew McCornickAndrew McCornick

“However, it is becoming increasingly clear that the UK Government has disregarded the strong and consistent evidence of NFU Scotland and other businesses in the UK food and drink supply chain about the type of immigration system we need to ensure productivity and output.

“The proposals published will not provide sufficient options for non-UK workers to come and work in rural Scotland.

“As such, Scotland-specific work permits in a UK system should be considered as a means to offer businesses in Scotland flexible tools to attract and retain manual skilled individuals within our labour market where automation and recruitment of domestic workers are not available nor viable options.”

Under Westminster plans, the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme (SAWS) will be increased from 2500 to 10,000 places, but critics have pointed out that the agricultural industry needs 70,000 seasonal workers across the UK – and around 10,000 in Scotland alone.

READ MORE: Mhairi Black: Tories have just made a great case for a Yes vote

McCornick said that while the increase was “welcome”, it was a “deep disappointment” that Westminster had “ignored” recommendations for a greater number.

NFU Scotland also wants agriculture and ancillary occupations to be added to the Shortage Occupations List which allows immigrants to come over to work for lower salaries than the proposed £25,600 limit.

James Withers, chief executive of Scotland Food and Drink, said the UK Government’s plans were “hugely worrying” as the fall in immigration since the Brexit vote in 2017 was “already hitting hard”.

“This policy fundamentally misunderstands how our economy works and how crucial immigration is in a country whose population will decrease without it,” he said.

The National: James Withers, left, with Andrew McCornickJames Withers, left, with Andrew McCornick

“This mustn’t be interpreted as a fear of losing ‘cheap labour’. The average salary in Scottish food and drink is double the living wage. This is about our pipeline workforce.

“There’s many cases of low-skilled workers coming to Scotland and now running big operations. We want more.

Steven Thomson, senior agricultural economist at Scotland’s Agricultural Rural College, pointed out that many seasonal workers had stayed and moved into permanent jobs in Scotland, often in other sectors.

“That throughput of individuals will probably dry up and that is a big concern,” he said.

READ MORE: Alister Jack: Tory immigration plans will be good for Scotland

“People tend to forget that farming is a long-term business decision and there are long-term investment decisions to be made. It’s hard to make these decisions when there is so much uncertainty over the key thing you need, which is labour.”

Thomson said it was not just the farms that relied on seasonal workers who were being hit.

“A lot of workers have come from Europe to work full-time on farms and, while some might have applied for settled status, the challenge then is where the next generation is going to come from. It’s not classed as skilled work, but it needs a lot of dedication and a lot of effort.”

HOSPITALITY

FEARS that the hospitality industry in Scotland will be plunged into crisis by Westminster’s immigration plans have prompted a call for the sector to be valued more highly.

The plea has been made by David Whiteford, chair of the North Highland Initiative, following the outcry over the plans announced last week.

Whiteford said the plans were “potentially disastrous”. “There has been no thought at all about the time scale of this – we can’t encourage people to come into this sector overnight,” he said. “There’s not a switch we can just flick on and all of a sudden there is a queue of people coming into the hospitality sector.

The National: David WhitefordDavid Whiteford

“We are trying to create a sustainable tourism strategy and we need the staffing capacity to deliver a good experience for people to come. Visitors can’t just eat the beauty, they need to be looked after. We need some sort of allowance to allow people to come and support the hospitality sector and we need all forms of government to work together on this.

“There is massive opportunity here and we don’t want that to be taken away from us because we don’t have enough people. A thoughtful, strategic plan is what we need and we need the governments working collaboratively to deliver it. We need governments to listen to us and we need to value the hospitality sector a bit more than we do.

“We have got some amazing natural produce which we should serve to our tourists with pride but we need people who will do that. Traditionally they have been colleagues from abroad, and if we get that cut off from us it is potentially disastrous. We need people to keep it going.”

READ MORE: Scottish people grasp the logic of welcoming immigrants

In 2017, a survey by the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) found that 21% of UK employers had at least one non-UK EU citizen on the books, rising to 26% in Scotland and 41% in the Highlands and Islands.

For hospitality businesses, the figures were 37% for the UK and 45% for Scotland. “We don’t have a figure for the Highlands and Islands but it is clearly going to be much higher,” said David Richardson of FSB Highlands and Islands.

The UK’s leading hospitality trade association, UKHospitality, said the Westminster Government’s approach would cause “significant problems” for hospitality businesses in Scotland.

“There is provision in the new system for agricultural workers, but none for tourism and hospitality businesses,” said CEO Kate Nicholls. “Some businesses in Scotland rely on the fluidity of being able to employ people who come over specifically to work for tourist seasons. This will be undone by the new system.”

READ MORE: Douglas Ross missed BBC immigration debate to referee football match

Marc Crothall, chief executive of the Scottish Tourism Alliance (STA) also criticised the plans for a new points-based immigration system.

“This system will exacerbate the existing recruitment challenge the industry is already facing, placing the sector, one of the most important economic drivers for Scotland, in severe jeopardy,” he said.

“These plans totally disregard the skill set and importance of those who work in the sector and go against what is needed in Scotland as a whole; a need for population growth which is why the STA in principle fully supports the Scottish Visa proposal recently announced by Scottish Government.

The National: Marc CrothallMarc Crothall

“Scotland’s situation is unique; we have very fragile areas in our economy and it is more important than ever that we’re able to attract and retain people, particularly in the Highlands and Islands and other rural areas. We need a differentiated system that is responsive to the specific needs of our tourism industry, our demography and our wider economy and sectors. The impact of the UK Government’s new immigration plans will have a profound impact across local economies, particularly in rural areas.

“We, along with many other sector groups representing Scotland’s business economy, believe that a bespoke Scottish Visa will address the urgent and distinctive need to drive population growth, not restrict it.”

Professor John Lennon of Glasgow Caledonian University said recruitment in the hospitality industry was already a “major issue” and the planned restrictions would hit it even harder.

“There are already significant labour shortages in food production, housekeeping and food service and that’s in all sectors, not just hotels and restaurants. It’s in everything from caravans to self-catering,” he said.

READ MORE: Nicola Sturgeon: Tory immigration plans 'devastating' for Scotland

“All we are getting now is a greater limitation on unskilled labour which this sector is dependent on and it is not an easy task to automate.

“This is a very labour intensive sector that depends a lot on human interaction and consumer service. The reputation of the nation and its hospitality is not something that can easily be handed to a machine.”

He said the problem that had grown from the first iteration of Brexit.

“The plunging currency automatically made working in the UK less attractive. That hasn’t changed and the less than welcoming signals that we are getting from Westminster about EU nationals, whether it is Michael Gove or any of his colleagues, doesn’t help.

“The problem here as well is that there is not a lot of indigenous Scottish labour because unemployment is quite low. There is already a net employment shortage and here’s a government regulation that is going to make it acute,” said Professor Lennon.

ENTERTAINMENT

FEARS have been raised about how the new immigration system could negatively affect touring musicians and artists.

READ MORE: Brexit: Fears for Scottish social care over UK visa changes

Leading music industry figures last week called on the government to clarify its proposed immigration rules amid concerns that bands from the EU will not be able to tour the UK without written permission or a visa. The Home Office has denied the changes will cause problems. Its immigration policy states: “The UK’s existing rules permit artists, entertainers and musicians to perform at events and take part in competitions and auditions for up to six months.’’ They can do so, it says, for up to a month for a specific engagement, without the need for formal sponsorship or a work visa.”

However, Deborah Annetts, the chief executive of the Incorporated Society of Musicians, said the policy paper reneged on previous pledges it had sought to allow EU bands to enter the country freely for gigs post-Brexit. She claimed the proposed regulations suggests EU performers will need advance permission.