Fife Council appeals for agricultural workers scheme

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The chief executive of Fife Council has written to Michael Gove expressing the local authority’s “deep concern at the workforce shortages facing many farms in Fife”.

Steve Grimmond’s letter to Mr Gove, the Environment Secretary, urges ministers to develop and agree a new version of the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme (SAWS).

SAWS allowed fruit and vegetable growers to employ migrant workers from Romania and Bulgaria as seasonal workers for up to six months at a time.

However, that was discontinued in 2013.

The suggestion of the reintroduction of such a scheme was made after the council shared its concern “that Brexit could leave the Fife industry with reduced capability, particularly skilled staff, a key concern expressed by companies”.

The letter uses the case of Allanhill Farming Company as an example, stating that the north east Fife business, which usually employs around 500 seasonal workers, had only been able to recruit 90 per cent of the workforce required.

The letter concludes: “Fife Council would be willing to work with the UK and Scottish Governments and representative bodies such as the NFU to help illustrate and understand the challenge to this important sector if solutions to seasonal employment are not implemented as part of Britain’s exit from the European Union.”

Mr Gove has previously described the case for introducing a scheme after the UK leaves the union as “compelling”.

The letter to the Environment Secretary was welcomed by local councillor Tim Brett.

He said: “I am pleased that this letter has gone to Michael Gove as there is clearly a serious problem facing farmers in Fife and other parts of Scotland.

“We are not suggesting that this is solely due to the Brexit decision but it is undoubtedly the case that Britain is now perceived as a less welcoming place following Brexit and everything must be done to try and protect our agricultural sector.

“I hope that Mr Gove will make an early decision to revive the SAWS scheme.”

A motion to send a letter to Michael Gove was agreed at a full council meeting earlier this year.

Cllr Bill Porteous, who supported the motion, added: “It is very worrying that we are in a situation where there are not enough workers to harvest crops that are being grown.

“This is a serious situation.”