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Politics matters

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Ealing chief executive Darra Singh on the implications of the Migration Advisory Committee's recommendations.

The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) has made recommendations to reduce the number of skilled job opportunities open to non-EU migrants.

Under a new points-based system due to be introduced later this year, employers will no longer be able to fill permanent posts with people from outside the European Union unless they are on the MAC shortage occupation list .

This could cull up 300,000 job opportunities for those from outside the EU and result in between to 30,000 and 70,000 fewer skilled migrants entering the country each year.

The contribution that migration has made to the British economy is hotly contested. The Home Office claims£6bn was ploughed into the UK economy in 2006 as a result. But despite the economic benefits of immigration, it also puts undeniable pressures on public services. This is something we in local government deal with on a daily basis.

The MAC’s remit to prioritise those skills the nation needs appears, on the face of it, wholly sensible. Some of the professions listed (hovercraft officers, fish-filleters, sheep-shearers) may raise a few chuckles and, as a non-executive director of the Department for Culture, Media & Sport , I for one was delighted to see that ballet dancers will still be able to grand jeté their way through immigration controls.

But seriously, like many, my concern is not around what is on the list, but what isn’t there. I believe that, when adopted, the recommendations in this report will have far-reaching negative implications, particularly in London.

The ‘recommended shortage occupation list’ does not reflect the very real challenges the local government workforce faces at this time and must be changed.

It is hard to fathom why the MAC didn’t properly consult local government or take into account the Local Government Association’s pay workforce strategy survey. The reality is that there are many occupations where we struggle to recruit and retain skilled staff. They range from social care to building surveying and from teaching to trading standards.

This report fails to address the needs of local government and it is unclear precisely what data MAC used to develop its priority list.

The limited focus on social care is particularly concerning especially as current estimates show that as many as one in two care staff in the capital are non-EU citizens.

Several key professions seem to be ignored completely. For example, the complete absence of town planners from the list could be devastating. In Ealing we recruit approximately a third of our town planners from outside the EU. This is because there is an enduring shortage in the UK and this is likely to be the case for some years to come.

If we are to restrict those coming to our country we have to know that our existing population can fill the current skills gap.

Although the MAC claims it may review the list of recommended occupations at any time, surely it would have been better to ask those that deliver the services to help shape the policy.

The final shortage occupation list is due to be published by the Home Office this month. I would therefore urge councils to voice their concerns to the Home Office to ensure our needs are taken into account.

We need a coherent policy that understands the relationships between skills shortages, housing, immigration and regeneration if our country is to prosper both economically and socially.

The alternative is to start running ballet classes for town planners and get teachers to take crash courses in sheep shearing or fish filleting in the school holidays.

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