The Chief Executive of the clothing and homeware retail giant Next, Lord Simon Wolfson, who was a massive supporter of Brexit during the controversial campaign, has urged the UK government to make things much easier for foreign workers to return to the country, to help ease the chronic labour shortages that industries are currently suffering.
The Conservative peer said that it was clear that there was an urgent need for labour, but the current immigration policies were crippling any chance of economic growth. He said it is now vital that key workers are given the opportunity to come back.
Overseas workers more than willing to come over
Pointing out that there were people desperate to come to the UK for work, and those individuals would be very happy to pick crops that are rotting in fields, or to work in warehouses that otherwise are not be operable, Lord Wolfson said it was deeply frustrating that they were not being allowed in. He feels that the approach requires a complete change so as to enable economically productive migration.
Lord’s challenge to the government
He challenged the government to decide whether the UK was an open free trading nation, or whether post-Brexit, it wanted to continue to be “fortress Britain”, and effectively pulling up the drawbridge to all foreign workers, which was blatantly having a significant negative effect on the economy. He added: “I think in respect of immigration, it is definitely not the Brexit that I wanted, or indeed, many of people who voted Brexit wanted.”
No sense in block for block’s sake
He continued to stress that the majority of people in Britain have a very pragmatic view of immigration. He believes that most would want control, but only where it is necessary. For example, where it is damaging society; however, in his opinion, there was no sense blocking arrivals of those foreigners who can who can make a worthwhile contribution.
Additional tax on firms is a viable solution?
His solution is for firms who desperately need foreign workers ought to be able to pay a tax of 10% to the government on these foreign workers’ salaries, to ensure that only the businesses that really could not recruit suitable workforce amongst UK applicants, could then look to recruit overseas. His argument is that it would automatically mean that these companies would never bring anybody in from abroad, if they could the skills in the UK, but if they genuinely could not, then they would pay a premium.
Just last month, a survey carried out found that almost nearly three-quarters of UK companies had suffered from labour shortages in the past 12 months. Nearly half of those wanted the government to grant temporary visas for roles that were in obvious shortage.
Tough year on the horizon
Lord Wolfson accepts that 2023 will be a very tough year for consumers and businesses alike, including his own brand, but insisted that many businesses should not be reliant upon government support as he feels there are far more needy causes. He said: “We do not want the government giving out money to businesses that do not really need it.”
He stressed that they should focus on giving any resources that he realised were limited, to people that needed it most to help them through the upcoming recession. “That is those who are going to be cold and hungry, not businesses that want a break on their taxes.”
Bounce back in 2024?
With one of the sharpest business brains in the UK, his opinions should be taken seriously, and encouragement should also be taken from his assessment that “While people will be squeezed, it is very unlikely that they will not be able to find work.” He went on to announce that it is his belief that 2024 could see a strong bounce back from recession.
“Next year will undoubtedly be tough, but there is no need for a national nervous breakdown,” he said confidently; also arguing that the UK’s low unemployment rate which fell to 3.5% in the three months to August of this year, would help shield the UK from deeper economic turmoil.