East Anglian businesses fear new immigration points system will hit their workforce
PUBLISHED: 09:48 21 February 2020 | UPDATED: 13:52 21 February 2020
Bringing in the ‘Australian-style’ points system to get into the UK could hit businesses hard in this region, says Richard Porritt
Immigration has long been a political hot potato.
Politician after politician tried to ignore it. They feared, perhaps understandably, they would be labelled either racist or a bit soft.
Because of the sensitivity around the subject it was often hushed up.
But Boris Johnson's government has grasped the nettle - with a mixed response.
Basically, people who want to come and work in the United Kingdom need to collect 70 points. Of that number, 50 are based on so-called "essential" criteria, which includes speaking English, having a job offer in place and being above a "skills threshold".
The other 20 points are gained by earning more than £26,500 a year, having a PhD or working in an occupation where there is a shortage of workers.
There are several issues with this model - which is dubbed an "Australia-style" system but actually appears to be rather less sophisticated.
The first is the language that has been used. "Low-skilled" is a frankly unfair description for jobs that are often back-breaking.
But that pales in to insignificance compared to the impact many businesses here in the East are bracing for.
Seasonal workers make up a vital part of the East Anglian work force. They work in our fields and the tourism industry also relies heavily on their honest, hard graft.
This week I visited a holiday park on the coast which is already preparing for the summer season. Next week an "army" of foreign workers will arrive to cook, clean and cater for the needs of the thousands of holidaymakers that will descend in the months to come.
None of those workers would come close to gaining the required 70 points.
As well as this, farmers fear crops rotting in the ground.
The government's solution at this stage also appears to be rather fanciful. The hope is that stemming the supply of foreign labour will prompt businesses to hire British workers instead. But where is the evidence of this queue of unemployed Brits eager to role up their sleeves and harvest crops?
One hospitality manager said: "It is going to be very, very tough for us if this system is implemented in the way the government is suggesting. Every year we rely heavily on workers who come to the East and do a brilliant job for us. They love it and we love having them.
"For us to have to go and find all those workers from the local market is ludicrous. We simply will not be able to fill the roles. At this stage the best we can do is hope that the government softens its stance."
But one East Anglian Tory source thought that was unlikely - at least in the short-term: "People want to see tough action on the amount of people coming into the country. Wherever there are focus groups or the like immigration comes up. Boris doesn't want to ignore that any longer.
"Personally I can see the problems with this though. It might take a year of shortages before some changes are made to the policy. Perhaps the points system could be relaxed for workers who are only going to be in the country for less than 12 months. The minister has said there could be some acknowledgement of industries with labour shortages - but I don't feel like at this stage leisure and farming are priorities."
Home Office minister and Witham MP Priti Patel unveiled the plans this week and even admitted her own parents probably would not have reached the 70-point threshold. There will be some tricky times ahead for Ms Patel - and not just when she goes to visit her family - if a solution to one of the biggest issues facing businesses in Norfolk and Suffolk is not solved soon.
Boris Johnson's top aide Dominic Cummings is not your average Westminster wonk.
He is a determined disruptor hell-bent on smashing up the system and starting again.
I am a fan of change. Change is good - if a change is required of course.
But Mr Cummings' plan for his Whitehall revolution is to employ a bunch of "freaks and weirdos" - his words not mine.
The first of those "freaks" has already been shown the door after some questionable social media posts.
I am all for employing a wide-range of different people - but perhaps a bit of due diligence first?