Being an MP must be a challenging role, creating numerous opportunities to visit people, events and organisations with a wide range of needs and stories to tell. To then be given a national platform as a Government Minister (or shadow Minister) to speak on a particular subject, it is vital that the local anecdotes which you might dredge up from your memory do not confuse or misrepresent the facts or else the two roles will come into deep conflict. When Amber Rudd, MP for Hastings and also Home Secretary was being interviewed on the Today programme on BBC Radio 4 on the subject of immigrant workers, she made the mistake of using an anecdote from one of her Hastings constituent businesses and sadly she spoke total nonsense and in doing so risked using her powerful position to damage a vital business in a needy area of East Sussex. She should be ashamed of this, let us hope she will now apologise.
Collins and Hayes make very comfortable sofas, we own two and I am sitting on one to write this blog. We bought one from a local shop and the other from a Collins and Hayes factory sale. As a result they regularly send us details of their products and subsequent sales etc. The company employs 75% local workers and due to the difficulties they face in recruiting machinists from the Hastings area, they have set up a scheme to recruit around 25% of their workers from some of the EU accession states. This is both legally acceptable and arguably until 23rd of June was a very responsible thing to do in strengthening the relationship with our EU partners. However Ms Rudd seems to have misunderstood the facts from her visit in August 2015 and confused the Companies need to rely on some immigrant workers, with an unwillingness to employ local people.
According to the BBC website Amber Rudd told the BBC’s Today programme on Wednesday “I went and visited a factory quite recently where they recruit almost exclusively from Romania and Poland, where there are people that have had experience in factories building these sofas… they didn’t even consider training locally. There was a local college they could have worked with, but they choose to recruit outside the UK,” The home secretary believes firms are “getting away” with not training enough British workers and the existing resident labour test – which requires firms to advertise vacancies in the UK for 28 days before looking outside the EU – should be toughened up. I am part of a business that has never needed to recruit workers from beyond the UK, but the challenge of finding training courses that meet the needs of our business is not easy. We have access to the industry based courses, but due to the diverse range of skills we need, the basic skills are hard to find in one course. Indeed we are working to persuade a local college to change its approach, and so far we have been unsuccessful, we remain hopeful though. Rather than pontificating from a point of ignorance, it would be helpful if Government Ministers and their opposition counterparts could spend more time trying to understand the needs of small and medium sized businesses, rather than relying on their inbuilt prejudices and smiling for photographs like the one above.