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Covid has had a huge impact on key Scottish sectors

22 October 2020

  • All Scotland’s key sectors impacted by COVID-19.
  • Praise for ‘unparalleled economic support’ – effectiveness needs to be reviewed for future pandemic response.
  • Lessons must be learned across the 4 nations of the UK response to pandemic.
  • Lack of key workers in food and drink, and health and social care aggravating factors in pandemic in Scotland.
  • Shortage Occupation List for Scotland should include all key health and social care workers.
  • Report recommends increase in Seasonal Workers Pilot Scheme.

A report published by the House of Commons’ Scottish Affairs Committee has highlighted the devastating impact on Scotland’s key sectors by the coronavirus pandemic. The Committee found that the crisis was compounded in certain sectors exacerbating some of the challenges faced.

Key amongst them was a shortage of key workers leading to difficulties in sourcing health and social care staff were made more acute as the virus hit, further hindering recruitment. This became more acute as the virus hit, further hindering recruitment.

The Report welcomed the Migration Advisory Committee’s recommendation last month that the UK Government broaden the Shortage Occupation List to include nursing assistants and senior social care workers but said that this ‘does not go far enough’. All key health and social care workers should be added to Shortage Occupation List for Scotland.

The report reveals that despite Government attempts to plug the shortfall in seasonal worker numbers with the “Pick for Britain” campaign there remained ‘challenges’ in some areas in filling posts due to limited local participation. Citing the risks of such shortages on food availability and the Scottish economy, the Committee signalled the need the assess the impact of the “Pick for Britain” campaign and for increasing numbers on the Seasonal Workers Scheme by at least 50%.

This is not the first time a Committee has brought up the subject of immigration. More than two years after publication, the predecessor Committee’s 2018 report Immigration in Scotland is still awaiting a Government response. Acknowledging the demands on Government over this time the delay was ‘wholly unacceptable’ and a response ‘overdue’. MPs have demanded a response before the end of the year.

The report also praised the effectiveness of financial packages from both Westminster and Holyrood that provided a ‘critical lifeline’ during the pandemic to important sectors of the economy. However, the Committee also felt that there was still a need to review economic support packages to ensure value for money and effective targeting for future pandemic contingency measures.

Chair's comments

The Chair of the Scottish Affairs Committee, Pete Wishart MP said:

“Coronavirus has taken a devastating toll on Scotland’s economy and health. Thousands in Scotland have had their lives significantly impacted by the pandemic and it has taken a huge toll on a number of key sectors in Scotland. We owe an enormous debt of gratitude to those who have worked at the coal face throughout the pandemic. Without them the damage would be immeasurably worse.

Our report found that the unparalleled economic support from both the UK and Scottish Government’s provided a critical lifeline to crucial parts of Scotland’s economy to offset the reduction in trade.

However, pre-existing shortages of or difficulties in recruiting such key workers have contributed to the already enormous impact of the coronavirus pandemic. This is particularly the case in the food and drink, and health and social care sectors that ensure Scotland is fed and healthy.

Immigration remains a major issue here. Both sectors are reliant recruitment from abroad, and despite efforts domestic recruitment could not fill the already depleted staffing levels when the virus struck. We’re calling for the Shortage Occupation List for Scotland to cover all health and social care workers and for the UK Government to increase the numbers on the Seasonal Workers Scheme.

Although immigration is a reserved power there are levers at the Scottish Government’s disposal that could help the situation; more could be done to encourage a larger share of migrants to live in Scotland.

We need to use the lessons of the present pandemic to ensure that we are better prepared for the next.”

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