UK business and education seek relaxation of labour restrictions

Education and business leaders have urged UK ministers to expand a temporary visa scheme for foreign workers to help fill key jobs or risk the economic recovery.

In a joint letter to four cabinet ministers, including business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng, more than a dozen organisations said the short-term measure was necessary to avoid further problems in the supply chain that has already led to fuel shortages and empty supermarket shelves.

They also called on the government to provide extra funding for the national skills fund and expand the apprenticeship system to there were enough trained British workers in the longer-term.

The letter, which was also sent to home secretary Priti Patel, education secretary Nadhim Zahawi and work and pensions secretary Thérèse Coffey, was signed by business and education groups from across the country. Signatories included London First, the North West Business Leadership Team, London Higher, an umbrella body representing over 40 universities and colleges, and the Night Time Industries Association.

The letter warned that the UK was “at a critical moment in the recovery” and without the short-term fix of more temporary visas the economy would be left in a “precarious” position.

Businesses have warned the government that the temporary visa scheme for 10,000 HGV drivers and poultry workers announced last month was not enough to plug the many vacancies in the labour market, including food production and construction.

Executives have said ministers’ plans to invest in longer term training for UK-based workers was welcome but the approach would not fix the immediate shortfalls.

The letter said further funding for the national skills fund was needed to address the lack of agility in the existing skills system. It warned of serious labour shortages across the hospitality, social care, food processing and transport sectors.

“Further short-term action must be taken quickly to avoid further escalation,” it warned, pointing out that the affected sectors were reaching crisis point.

It called for a cross-government action to devise a strategy for the labour market, which should include a temporary worker’s visa for industries where there is evidence of labour and skills shortages.

In the longer term, it said that alongside greater funding for vocational training, ministers should ensure city regions are given more devolved powers to create an effective business-led reskilling programme.

The government did not respond to a request for comment.

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