Conservative peer leads businesses in blasting UK govt over failure to plug labour shortages via overseas workers

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Next chief executive and Conservative Party peer, Lord Simon Wolfson, has called on the UK government to step up and solve ongoing labour shortages by helping companies hire overseas workers to meet demand.

The comments came on the final day of the Tory Party’s annual conference, where Prime Minister Boris Johnson declared that businesses cannot “use immigration as an excuse for failure to invest” in British workers.

Speaking to the BBC, Wolfson blasted the PM’s comments, marking the latest clash between the pro-Brexit Conservative peer and Tory leader Johnson. While Johnson has sought to pressure UK businesses to focus on investing in local employees, Wolfson has urged the government to recognise that the way to fill labour shortages is by employing overseas workers.

Proposing a compromise of sorts, Wolfson suggested the government should help businesses secure visas for overseas workers they “desperately need” now, while imposing a “visa tax” that ensures “UK workers are not deprived of opportunities that they might want.”

Johnson has been resistant to allowing overseas workers to be used to quickly and easily fill labour shortages, as he seeks to push plans for a “high-wage, high-skill, high-productivity economy” for British citizens, as part of his so-called ‘levelling up’ agenda.

“The answer is to control immigration, to allow people of talent to come to this country but not to use immigration as an excuse for failure to invest in people,” Johnson told his party’s conference.

Wolfson’s plea to the government reiterates calls made across businesses in the UK, with the chief of external affairs at the Federation of Small Businesses, Craig Beaumont, calling the government’s current approach “pretty horrifying” given the current supply chain issues resulting from labour shortages.

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One sector particularly afflicted by the labour woes is agriculture, with farmers warning of impending animal culls as farms cannot secure enough employees to slaughter them in the requisite time. The UK’s National Pig Association has blamed Brexit and the Covid pandemic for labour shortages, which have already forced some 600 pigs to be killed recently due to animal overcrowding, with mass culls “the next stage.”

Growing concerns about the impact of labour shortages across the UK follows the government’s decision to deploy the British army to deliver fuel to petrol stations that have run dry amid panic buying and a lack of HGV drivers. Roughly 200 soldiers were sent out to petrol stations earlier this week, mainly in London and the Southeast to “increase fuel stocks” and attempt to “stabilise” the situation.

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