Skills shortages across Scotland were highlighted as one of the most pressing issues facing the country’s economic recovery at the Scottish Development and Industry Council (SCDI) forum.
Various speakers throughout the two-day event in Edinburgh complained that the lack of available workers was stifling growth – the blame being blamed on both the UK and Scottish governments.
Yesterday, Deputy Prime Minister John Swinney stressed the importance of activating the economically inactive within the population, noting that the support will be detailed in the National Strategy for Economic Transformation, which is expected to be released before the end of this year.
Responding to a question from the audience, he referred to the work undertaken 20 years ago, with cross-party consensus, to ease constraints on workers moving to Scotland, which have been spurred by the openness of the European Union in the East.
However, the working-age population has started to decline again, which Swinney blamed on Brexit and the loss of freedom of movement, many of those who came here are now returning to their home countries.
“We are constantly engaging with the UK government to recognize the importance of this and to work again on easing.
“There are a lot of industries that are struggling with people, we just have too few working age people, so I think the government can do more to motivate and engage economically inactive people.”
This morning came a response from the representative for Westminster, the new Parliamentary Under Secretary of State Lord Malcolm Offord, who was quick to list the range of support Scotland has received during the pandemic – indicating around 900 000 jobs supported through the leave scheme and 175,000 jobs supported through the self-employed income assistance scheme.
He also referred to the upcoming White Paper on the UK Government’s upgrade plans, noting that around Â£ 170million has already been awarded to Ayrshire’s successful offers to Aberdeen.
The UK Shared Prosperity Fund has also been touted by Offord as more than just a match for lost EU funds, with local authorities due to receive Â£ 125,000 to ensure the deals are successful for part of the Â£ 2.6bn on offer to help those who face barriers in the labor market.
“We’re trying to prime the pump to make sure the people in the right places get the right funding,” he commented.
Asked about the future beyond EU trade deals, Offord argued that the possibility of concluding new deals on a global scale “would more than offset any temporary reduction in EU trade,” suggesting that ‘there is a “pent-up demand that will be triggered in the next few years”.
Specifically pressed by the problems the Scottish fishing and seafood sector has faced since the Brexit transition took effect earlier this year, he argued that there was no had “huge fallout” and that much of the bureaucracy and administration issues had been resolved. .
“There are now labor issues with food producers,” Offord admitted, before saying “a lot of work is being done” to help alleviate them.
Moderator Sally Magnusson also asked him about the UK government’s decision to designate only Scotland’s Acorn carbon capture and storage cluster as a back-up project.
Offord replied: âIt was my first day on the job and there was no doubt that there had been a lot of disappointment, but the two projects that were chosen give the best return on capital – there is also more than carbon in these places.
âThe point of view is that the project is not dead, we are working hard to keep it at the forefront of Treasury’s minds.
“Funding for the project continues and we are working with the Scottish Government to keep the pressure on.”
Responding to some of Offords’ comments in the previous session, Trade, Tourism and Enterprise Secretary Ivan McKee began his speech by declaring ‘I’m not going to talk about the economic vandalism of Brexit’, nor the attempts to solve the crisis of heavy truck drivers, or attacks. on devolution, or “Project Acorn and the inability of the Scottish Office to do anything about it”, or the reversal of Valneva’s Covid vaccine, or the divergence on freeport plans – instead of stick to the topic of the panel; innovation.
But when asking about talent shortages in certain industries, he echoed Swinney’s comments on immigration and agreed that more needs to be done to address growing gaps.
âThe work we are doing on inactivity in the labor market should help, as well as improving and retraining the skills of the workforce,â McKee said.
This was in response to comments made by another panelist, David Farquhar, managing director of vertical farming technology firm Intelligent Growth Solutions.
He said: âThe hardest part is attracting talent – we went from 25 to 150 people recently, but we should be closer to 200 people.
âThe investment is there to finance our expansion, but we decided to go abroad to find the capital, because it doesn’t exist here.
“Being here is good, but innovation is made by people and we lack skills in electronics engineering and software engineering.”
McKee accepted the criticism, saying that although Scotland has an established angel investment community, scaling up has long been more difficult, so work was underway to create business clusters that could attract venture capital, private equity, and sovereign wealth funds to bring their money here.
The minister also responded to questions about delays in Scotland’s alternative freeport plans, arguing that this was primarily related to the fact that the Westminster version was launched by the Scottish government last November, but when his team looked at the details, they did not agree with Living Wage and Environmental Standards.
“We almost had a deal last year but things happened with the UK government that derailed the deal and then in September they disagreed with our demand for a real living wage he complained, adding that the Scottish greenport prospectus would be launched in the coming weeks.
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