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Increase in seasonal workers announcement welcomed in the north-east

By David Porter

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Banff and Buchan MP David Duguid has joined fellow politicians and union leaders in welcoming news that the number of seasonal workers permitted to travel to the UK to pick and package fruit for next year’s harvest will be increased.

The increase in visa numbers has been welcomed.
The increase in visa numbers has been welcomed.

A seasonal workers pilot scheme, launched in 2019 with an initial 10,000 workers, will be expanded to 30,000 temporary visas available for 2021.

The announcement from the UK Government follows pressure from MPs, who have lobbied ministers for an increase.

The decision has been welcomed by the National Farmers Union Scotland (NFUS).

Scottish Conservative MP for Banff and Buchan David Duguid said:“This is a very welcome announcement.

“Our food producers have been clear that the original pilot scheme of 10,000 workers, while welcome, did not go far enough.

“My Scottish Conservative colleagues have lobbied ministers at the highest levels of government to expand the scheme to allow more workers to come to the UK.

“This was an issue that was particularly important for the soft fruit sector in Scotland.

“The announcement today will bring some certainty for fruit and vegetable growers Scotland to that they can plan accordingly for the 2021 harvest.

“It also shows that this UK Government is listening to the industry and acting upon their concerns.”

The expansion of the scheme follows a long period of close working with the National Farmers Unions and the Association of Labour Providers, across all parts of the UK and in particular recognition of the need for additional seasonal labour in Scotland to support local rural economies and the renowned soft fruit growers.

In addition, the government alongside industry will build on this year’s Pick for Britain campaign and actively promote the recruitment and retention of domestic seasonal workers in 2021.

Alongside the Seasonal Workers Pilot, Defra will also lead a review into automation in horticulture, to begin in early 2021.

The review will report on ways to increase automation in the sector and meet the government’s aim of reducing the need for migrant seasonal labour.

Environment Secretary George Eustice said: "We will always back our farmers and growers, who work hard all year round to provide us with a secure supply of fruit and vegetables.

"The measures announced will provide vital labour, both domestic and from abroad, to our farmers and growers to help gather the 2021 harvest to feed the nation. Our review into automation will pave the way for a pioneering and efficient future for our fruit and vegetable growers.

Scottish Secretary Alister Jack said: "The expansion of the Seasonal Workers Pilot is great news for Scottish farmers and our world-class produce.

"The UK Government has listened to Scottish farmers and our rural communities.

"From next year, up to 30,000 visas will be granted for workers to come to the UK for a period of up to six months to pick and package fruit and vegetables on our farms.

"This will give certainty to the country’s fruit and vegetable growers, and help ensure our critical food security.

NFU Scotland President, Andrew McCornick said: "NFU Scotland welcomes the announcement that there will be a Seasonal Worker Scheme allowing 30,000 workers from outside the UK to undertake vital seasonal agricultural work.

"The significant upscale of the Seasonal Worker Scheme from 10,000 to 30,000 permits has been hard won.

"Following close and supportive dialogue with government and MPs, NFU Scotland welcomes this increase on the understanding that the EU Settlement Scheme will allow workers who have undertaken work on Scottish horticulture farms prior to 2021 to return.

"And following the major, industry-led effort to recruit domestic workers during the 2020 pandemic, growers will continue to utilise all tools to encourage as much recruitment from within the UK as possible in 2021.

"We look forward to working with government to establish the terms and operation of the scheme in terms of cost for employers and which operators will be licensed to operate."

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