Immigration should be used to solve worker shortages in the UK and the government must be “practical” on the issue, the head of the CBI is expected to say.
Tony Danker, director general of the Confederation of British Industry, will urge politicians to allow migrant workers to take up hard-to-fill jobs.
Speaking later at the CBI conference, he will say: “Let’s have economic migration in areas where we aren’t going to get the people and skills at home any time soon. In return, let’s make those visas fixed term.”
Brexit stopped many foreign workers being able to easily work in the UK and companies are struggling to recruit – especially in industries such as hospitality which has relied heavily on European staff in recent years.
Despite four quarterly falls this year, overall vacancies remain high at more than 1.2 million.
In August to October 2022 they were 429,000 (54%) above pre-pandemic levels of early 2020, and 32,000 (2.7%) higher than a year ago, according to the Office for National Statistics.
Speaking to Sky News on Monday morning, he said: “…look, this should be a very simple system: What are the jobs we need to fill, number one? Number two: have we got British workers to fill them? And number three: if we don’t, let’s use immigration on a fixed term basis, just fixed term visas to plug the gaps until British workers are ready to do the jobs.
“That’s not how our immigration system works today, and that’s why it’s not helping us with our growth problem.”
He said the autumn statement was about stabilising markets but not about how the economy is going to grow – something he hoped the prime minister would talk about later.
During his own speech today, the CBI boss is also expected to also urge changes to regulations and red tape, saying: “I know that some Conservative politicians today feel that this issue is the fault of Europe.
“But the biggest regulatory barriers facing businesses today are based on British laws, created by a British parliament, and administered by British regulators.”
Chancellor’s statement ‘incredibly welcome’
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is expected to be in attendance at the Birmingham conference and give a speech of his own focusing on innovation, just days after his chancellor unveiled £25bn of tax raises.
Mr Danker is set to praise the chancellor’s autumn statement as “incredibly welcome” – and thank him for “staying the course” on infrastructure projects such as HS2 rail and the Sizewell C nuclear plant.
However, with the UK looking destined for recession and stagnating growth in recent years, he will say more needs to be done.
“The painful reality about growth is that it can’t be stimulated overnight. That’s what the mini-budget got wrong,” Mr Danker will tell delegates.
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Brexit concerns will also be in his speech, namely the ongoing row with the EU over the Northern Ireland Protocol.
“Get round the table, do the deal, unlock the Trade and Co-operation Agreement. I say to Brexiteers, the best guarantor of Brexit is an economy that grows. Its biggest risk is one that doesn’t,” the CBI chief will say.
“Now I know that some of these things will not be popular with politicians.
“But while, I have no problem with government taking tough choices to bring stability, I want them to also take tough choices for growth.”
The call to finally rectify the Protocol issue comes as Downing Street was forced to dent at the weekend that it was considering a more liberal “Swiss-style” deal with the EU in order to boost trade.