Labour shortages

Next boss calls for more overseas workers

Lord Wolfson
Lord Wolfson: ‘not the Brexit I wanted’

Retailer Lord Wolfson, chief executive of the clothing and interiors chain Next, wants the government to ease the rules on allowing foreign workers into the UK.

The Conservative peer was a supporter of Brexit but said the government was putting up obstacles to companies desperately short of labour.

“We have got people queueing up to come to this country to pick crops that are rotting in fields, to work in warehouses that otherwise wouldn’t be operable, and we’re not letting them in,” he said in a broadcast interview.

“In respect of immigration, it’s definitely not the Brexit that I wanted, or indeed, many of the people who voted Brexit wanted,” he added.

The clampdown on movement of labour has meant EU citizens no longer have the right to work in the UK, but it has left thousands of businesses, mainly in the services and care sectors, struggling to fill vacancies.

Last year the government was forced to offer temporary visas to lorry drivers and poultry workers to help fix disruption to the supply chain.

Lord Wolfson said the British people took a “pragmatic view” of immigration” adding: “Yes, control it, where it’s damaging to society, but let people in who can contribute.”

He suggested firms paying a 10% levy to the government on the salaries of foreign hired labour to deter businesses bringing in someone from overseas if they could find someone in the UK. “If they genuinely can’t, they’ll pay the premium,” he said.

He also attempted to calm national worries over a predicted long recession, perhaps lasting until 2024.

“While people will be squeezed, it’s very unlikely that they won’t be able to find work,” he said.

He added that there were already signs – in the prices being quoted for future raw materials at the end of next year – that 2024 could see a strong bounce back from recession.

“The interesting thing about a supply side recession is that the seeds of correction are automatically certain. So as demand drops, and factories begin to empty, then prices begin to come down,” he said.

“Next year will be tough but there is no need for a national nervous breakdown.”

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