NFU Horticulture and Potatoes Board Chair, Ali Capper, discusses the urgent need for the seasonal workers pilot to be expanded.
The question of where our future workforce is going to come from continues to keep me awake at night, especially as I regularly attend consultation meetings with the Home Office on their future immigration policy. Whether we have a deal or no deal, the government's plan is that we have a new immigration policy in place from the beginning of 2021. Whilst that might feel like a long time in politics, to our business and for all of your businesses, this is only one full season away after this year.
At the moment the Home Office has not committed to implementing a full seasonal workers scheme from 2021, but it does remain a distinct possibility. The sector needs 60-70,000 seasonal workers to perform 80,000 seasonal roles. The idea that a seasonal workers pilot can be scaled up from 2,500 to 60,000 in one year would appear unrealistic to me. Surely it would make more sense to scale up the pilot to 30,000 in 2020 in order that we can double its size in 2021? When I suggested this at a meeting this week in London, the Home Office reiterated again the seasonal workers scheme will remain a pilot for 2,500 permits throughout 2020.
In order for the pilot to become a fully functioning scheme, the government will need to take a number of labour providers and farm businesses through their tender process in order that a larger proportion of the industry will be able to issue permits and recruit workers. In my opinion the work to authorise those labour providers and farm businesses ought to be starting now.
It's interesting that George Eustice appears to agree with the NFU since he has left his post as Minister for Agriculture! I'm delighted he has launched an Early Day Motion to support our asks. Please use the email tool to ask your MP in order that common sense prevails and that the pilot scales up next year so that the industry is ready when we leave the EU in 2021.