UK Government plans to tackle the supply chain crisis by allowing thousands more lorry drivers into the country to work in the run-up to Christmas have been condemned as “woefully inadequate” by Scotland’s First Minister.
Nicola Sturgeon claimed the proposals, unveiled by Boris Johnson’s Government on Sunday, do not even amount to a “sticking plaster”.
Ministers stepped in as panic buying hit filling stations across the UK, with a shortage of HGV drivers having affected supplies of petrol and diesel.
A temporary visa scheme is being set up by the UK Government to allow 5,000 foreign HGV drivers into the UK on three-month contracts up to Christmas Eve.
In an attempt to keep supermarket shelves stocked with turkeys before Christmas, 5,500 poultry workers will also be allowed in for the same period.
Ms Sturgeon said: “We welcome anything that enables more people to come here to work, but the changes to the visa rules that were announced last week, I think to describe them as a sticking plaster would be an exaggeration because I don’t think they even amount to that.”
Speaking at First Minister’s Questions, she told how the Scottish Government had warned that “one of the immediate impacts” of the UK leaving the European Union “would come from challenges in recruiting and retaining citizens as workers here, and so indeed that is proving”.
She said: “The fuel crisis, the labour and skills shortages that are being experienced across the economy and public services right now, I think lay bare the economic recklessness of this hard Brexit.
“The UK Government pressed ahead with leaving the EU, despite repeated requests to delay, and everybody across the country is now seeing the result of this short-sighted ideology.
“The Conservatives, after giving the impression that people from other countries are not welcome to work here, they now of course want people to come here for three months to help the UK Government out of this self-imposed crisis, only to send them back again on Christmas Eve. It is absolutely disgraceful.”
Green MSP Gillian Mackay, who raised the issue, said: “There’s a labour shortage affecting sectors from care to haulage.
“We’re even threatened with shortages of Irn-Bru if this isn’t urgently addressed.
“The Conservative response to this is the pathetic offer of a three-month visa for EU truck drivers.”
She called on the First Minister to confirm the “people of Scotland will be given a way out of Boris Johnson’s Brexit Britain with a referendum on Scotland’s future before the end of this Parliament”.
Ms Sturgeon told her: “I do continue to believe and indeed intend that people across this country will have the opportunity to choose independence in a referendum in this Parliament and I hope within the first half of this Parliament.”
Asked about food shortages and issues with fuel, Scottish Secretary Alister Jack insisted the problem has not been caused by the UK leaving the European Union.
“The cause of this is not Brexit because this problem exists in Europe,” Mr Jack told the PA news agency.
“I’ve seen pictures of empty shop shelves or shops in Sweden, I know there are issues with lorry drivers in Poland, Germany, France, Spain, and in America.
“This is a problem whereby the shortages come through the lack of HGV driver and the lack of HGV drivers is essentially from not training – for 18 months – new HGV drivers to come into the system, but having a lot retiring at the other end of the career.
“So you’ve had the HGV drivers disappearing to retirement, but no fresh ones coming in and it’s created a massive shortage.”
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