Angus MP Mike Weir has raised concerns of farmers and fruit growers over UK plans to end the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme (SAWS) next year.
The scheme lets EU accession state workers harvest crops on UK farms for periods up to six months. Plans to end the scheme from 2013 have caused worries among producers who fear that they will be unable to attract seasonal workers.
Mr Weir spoke on the issue in a debate in Parliament on Wednesday, and raised the issue at Scottish Questions. He said: “There are growing concerns over the ending of this scheme, with some producers warning it could lead to shortages. It is crucial that the UK Government devises a successor scheme. The industry needs to have confidence that this is on the agenda now.
“They previously attempted to end the scheme in 2010 but it won a reprieve. The same needs to happen again to secure the future of the sector.
“This is a vital part of the Scottish economy, and particularly in Angus. Horticulture, fruit, vegetables and flower production contributed some £241 million to the Scottish economy in 2010.
“It is unfortunate that this excellent scheme has become enmeshed in arguments about immigration. The issues are totally separate.
“There are long-standing difficulties in getting sufficient labour for seasonal work. A shortage could have a devastating effect on local industry which is an important part of our economy. It is not just the direct picking jobs which are provided by horticulture but the whole infrastructure behind it from administration, processing, packing and transporting the fruit, which has to be done quickly and efficiently, contributing many full-time jobs for local people.
“Food and drink is a Scottish success story at a time when other industries have struggled and economic conditions have been tough – it is crucial that the UK Government act to safeguard the future of this sector.
“DEFRA and the Home Office are in talks about the scheme and the independent Migration Committee has been asked to look at the matter. It is vital that local growers and their associations make their views known to inform the consultation.”