Three leading Cumbrian trade bodies representing thousands of local businesses are calling on the Government to rethink its proposed changes to the immigration system, raising concerns it will exacerbate the county’s current workforce crisis.
Cumbria Tourism, Cumbria Chamber of Commerce and the FSB (Federation of Small Businesses) say they have been inundated with concerns from businesses who fear the plans will further shrink an already depleted talent pool and make current labour shortages in hospitality, manufacturing and other key sectors even worse.
Among the proposals is a plan to raise the minimum annual salary needed to get a skilled worker visa from £26,200 to £38,700, significantly above the average salary both in Cumbria and nationally.
It’s feared the move will force many businesses to reduce – and even close – their operations, impacting negatively on both the Cumbrian economy and local communities.
The three organisations have penned a joint letter to the Home Secretary, highlighting
Cumbria’s unique circumstances. The letter cites Cumbria’s small and super-aging population combined with a high demand for workers – not least in the tourism and hospitality industry, which accounts for 26% of all jobs in the county – resulting in localised recruitment challenges which the Government has failed to recognise.
Cumbria Tourism, Cumbria Chamber of Commerce and the FSB are also carrying out a joint survey of businesses to get more formal first-hand feedback about the potentially devastating impact the plans will have on them.
Managing Director of Cumbria Tourism, Gill Haigh, says, “Across Cumbria’s tourism and hospitality sector alone, 12% of roles are vacant and 79% of businesses are struggling with recruitment. Businesses are already unable to fill jobs with local people and are now facing the terrifying prospect of having to further cut back their operations – or even close their doors – because they can’t turn to overseas workers to help them operate on a day-to-day basis.
“It is doubly frustrating as we have previously led delegations of hospitality businesses to meet with face-to-face with Immigration Ministers, but our calls for new, creative measures to help recruit and retain staff continue to fall on deaf ears. We really do need the Government to reconsider these plans and will be doing everything we can to open their eyes to the full consequences of this flawed policy.”
Managing Director of Cumbria Chamber of Commerce, Suzanne Caldwell, comments: “Raising the minimum salary for legal migrants, for example, from £26,200 to £38,700, takes it way beyond average wages, both in Cumbria and nationally. We fail to understand the justification for this change, which takes the salary banding way beyond many roles which are by no means low paid.
“The employers we are working with are not exploitative employers bringing in foreign staff, paying them less and keeping British workers out of jobs. What we are talking about here is about good employers, who value their staff, being unable to recruit and retain enough people to deliver the goods, services and growth we need as a county and as a country. In fact, the contribution by the employer and employee in the case of a legal migrant worker is higher than a British employee.”
Gary Lovatt, Area Lead for Cumbria Federation of Small Businesses, adds: “In October the claimant rate was 2.2% and just 1.3% in South Lakeland and 1.3% in the Lake District National Park. Across Cumbria’s hospitality sector alone, 12% of roles are vacant and 79% are struggling with recruitment. This is despite significant work undertaken, with more in the pipeline, to attract more local people into work within the county, to engage and support disadvantaged groups and to attract more UK workers here.
“As trade bodies we call upon the Government to urgently withdraw this proposal and we invite the Minister to visit Cumbria to meet with businesses to understand the consequences for business and the economy were these proposals to be actioned.”