In an interview on Monday night’s newsnight, Iain Duncan Smith explains what sort of barriers to immigration he believes that the Government will impose post Brexit. He was interviewed by Emily Maitlis who carefully asked who would be let in. She uses the example of students bringing in funding, people she describes as high value migrants, who work for the NHS and who work in social care. Duncan-Smith replied that the migrants that are valued are those who come in and do jobs such as scientists, software engineers, academics and people who carry out inter-company transfers in the City. He explained that the problem has been that large numbers of low skilled workers have been allowed in. He threw in the idea that these people claimed more in benefits than they paid in taxation which is something I understand has been proven to be completely flawed and was not challenged unfortunately. However he then suggested that employers need to be dissauded from looking abroad for ‘easy picks’ and instead to look locally for people and then training them.
This sort of analysis is what one might expect from a group of people down at the local pub on a topic that they were not prepared for. Not from an experienced Minister representing a major political party and leave campaign who has spent months honing his ideas. The fact is that our educational system is very good at educating people with very high skill sets. The sorts of people that Duncan Smith suggests we want to attract to the UK. Those who do come from other nations inevitably bring with them different emphasies but they are not the people we need. Our education system is also very well known for releasing many people with very low skills. What has been missing for many years has been the area in the middle. Medium level skills that are difficult to teach in schools and which all but the biggest employers are not able to train for simply due to the cost of the training infrastructure and the UK is predominantly a place where small businesses exist. It is here that the gaps exist. There are also the people Emily was referring to such as caring for people in care homes and trained nurses. If we are to address these shortage this is a matter that requires the Government to play a role and it will demand funding and a change of culture which takes decades not years. This problem has been evident in the UK for well over a decade. There have been various well meaning and intelligent sounding suggestions regarding how to fix the problem. Some of them fail and some of them cost more than successive governments are prepared to pay for. A classic example being the Future Jobs fund which the coalition ended on the day it arrived in office, even though the charity I was involved in was achieving great things by it. This government introduced the University Technical Colleges which seemed to be a good idea but are already showing signs of failure. The latest idea is the apprenticeship levy which on paper looks like it might improve matters, but although the levy is being collected in by the Government, it is unlikely to begin its first steps for at least another year and so if it is succesful we will not know until 2021 at the earliest.
What is vital in the light of all this is for Governments to invest heavily in educating their MPs and future Ministers. We need people capable of understanding the issues they are invited to talk about. To speak on national TV, even a late night programme like Newsnight and argue we need to get employers to train people in low skills is not going to make the grade.