FMB boss brands Immigration White Paper “disastrous”

Brian Berry said world class infrastructure projects will become a “pipe dream” if proposed immigration plans go ahead

THE UK Government’s Immigration White Paper has been described as “disastrous” by the chief executive of the Federation of Master Builders (FMB).

The Government has attempted to set out its post-Brexit immigration system, but FMB chief Brian Berry said the details show the business community isn’t being listened to in relation to issues such as access to workers of varying skill levels.

“The Government seems hell-bent on ignoring the business community when it comes to its immigration policy, as demonstrated by this disastrous White Paper,” Brian Berry said. “Despite more than two years of constructive engagement, what has been proposed by Ministers takes on none of our feedback. If the Government wants to jeopardise the UK economy for the sake of meeting an arbitrary immigration target, it’s going the right way about it.

“What’s particularly worrying is the Government’s obsession with salary thresholds for migrant workers entering the UK. The figure of £30,000 was floated in the Migration Advisory Committee report and was met by fierce opposition from almost all sectors. It makes no sense to draw meaningless lines in the sand when we should base our immigration policy on what will make our economy strong and productive. The White Paper also states categorically that it will make no allowances for so-called low skilled workers. This is wrong on two levels – firstly, the definition of low skilled will cover most construction tradespeople and secondly, genuinely low skilled workers, such as labourers, are essential to the safe and smooth running of any construction site.

“12-month work visas for occupations in short supply during the transition period simply won’t cut it. Small and medium-sized construction firms, which make up 99% of the industry, do not advertise for roles internationally. Also, from a migrant worker’s perspective, why go to the UK for just 12 months when they can settle in other countries for much longer and put down roots if they wish. If the 12-month work visa idea was supposed to be an olive branch to the business community, it leaves much to be desired. The Government describes the construction and housebuilding sectors as strategic and central to delivering its own aims. However, the plans set out today would make it impossible to meet the Government’s housebuilding targets and the world-class infrastructure projects we have in the pipeline will be nothing but a pipe dream.”

Lady Cobham CBE, director general of The 5% Club, which was set up by Balfour Beatty boss Leo Quinn and represents more than 340 businesses across the UK committed to offering ‘earn and learn’ training opportunities, said its members are “very concerned” about plans to prioritise ‘high-skilled’ migrants.

“Many of our members are from sectors that are already experiencing skills shortages,” she explained. “One way our members offset this is to offer ‘earn and learn’ training opportunities. However, they are very concerned about today’s plans to prioritise ’high-skilled’ migrant workers when it is clear that there are skills shortages across all levels.

“At present, our members are unable to access the skills they need from a domestic workforce. Many sectors have relied on EU workers to fill significant gaps which – due to record levels of employment, ongoing skills shortages, insufficient new entrants and young people taking up apprentices – are unlikely to be resolved from the domestic base for some time. Post-Brexit, employers must have access to a diverse pool of talent from outside the UK in order to succeed economically.

“According to our members, falling levels of EU migration are already having a severe impact on employers’ ability to find the staff they need, exacerbating skills shortages and driving up wages. This is clearly not sustainable over a long period. We therefore welcome the acknowledgment that there must be a route for workers at any skill level into the UK, but are concerned about the practicality for employers of this only being for a 12-month period.

“Moreover, The 5% Club believes that the placing of arbitrary definitions on skills levels is simply wrong. We are encouraged by the proposed review of the Shortage Occupation List, and hope to see detailed consideration as to the skills needs of different sectors. 

“The 5% Club agrees wholeheartedly that industry must train more workers domestically, but we must be given every assistance to enable us to do so.”