WESTMINSTER has failed to ‘recognise the urgency’ of Scotland’s need for an adequate supply of seasonal workers for its agri-food industry.

In the lead up to last month’s General Election, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a Seasonal Workers Scheme allowing 10,000 temporary visas throughout the UK over the course of the year – a figure that the vegetable and horticultural sectors have warned will fall very far short of their actual labour needs.

SNP politicians this week pointed out that the region of Angus alone required more than 4000 workers to keep its agri-food industry afloat, and called for an urgent review of the scale of the current seasonal workers scheme.

Angus South MSP, Graeme Dey and newly elected MP for Angus, Dave Doogan, have written to Tory Home Secretary, Priti Patel, asking for changes to be made before the UK leaves the EU later this month, and for the Scottish Parliament to be handed powers to control its own immigration system.

Mr Dey said: “The Tories simply couldn’t care less about the jobs and livelihoods that depend on the soft fruit and veg sector here in Angus, and across Scotland.

“With the UK Government only planning to grant 10,000 temporary visas for seasonal workers across the whole of the UK this year, this scheme doesn’t get anywhere close to tackling the labour shortages faced by the industry.

“The incompetence and lack of understanding shown by this Tory government is pushing the industry to breaking point – if there’s no workforce to plant veg and pick fruit then tons of high-quality crops will be left to rot in the fields,” he claimed.

Mr Doogan added: “We’re on course to be dragged out of the EU against our will in a matter of weeks – businesses can’t afford to wait any longer. The Tories need to face up to the mess they’ve created and meet the needs of Scottish farmers.

“Better still, it’s time that Holyrood was handed control over immigration to build a fair, common sense system that actually works for Scotland.”

NFUS political affairs manager, Claire Slipper, noted that the pilot Seasonal Workers Scheme had actually been set at just 2500 workers, but that it had been a Tory Party manifesto pledge to increase that to 10,000. Fortunately, it would not be the sole source of seasonal workers in the coming year.

“For this year, free movement will still be in operation as we transition out of the EU,” said Ms Slipper. “But the trend over the last three years has shown a decline in the number of people coming from the EU, so there are gaps needing filled, and we don’t expect the pilot scheme, even increased to 10,000, to fill them.

“As of 2021, we will be under a completely new system for immigrant labour, which we do not yet know the detail of, and that is what we are looking towards to provide a long term solution, which must be a scaled-up Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme that is open to both EU and non-EU workers,” she added.