Turn on the immigration taps to revive growth, CBI tells PM

Turn on the immigration taps to revive growth, CBI tells PM: Sunak is urged to plug skills gaps with foreign workers… but ministers demand business leaders train up Brits instead

  • Rishi Sunak is giving a keynote speech to the CBI at conference in Birmingham
  • Business leaders urging the PM to loosen immigrations rules to boost economy
  • Ministers insist that firms should be training up Britons to fill vacancies instead 

The head of the CBI today urged Rishi Sunak to boost immigration to revive growth in the economy.

Tony Danker said more foreign workers should be brought in to ‘plug the gaps’ in the labour market.

He pointed out there are over a million job vacancies, and a huge number of people who are economically inactive.

The comments came as the PM prepares to give a speech to business leaders at the CBI conference in Birmingham later, calling on them to focus on innovation to kick-start UK plc.

But immigration minister Robert Jenrick rejected the idea, saying the government was determined to bring down net inflows and firms should focus on ‘training up, improving the skills of British people and getting them into the workforce’. 

Rishi Sunak is facing pressure to loosen immigration rules as he gives a speech to the CBI today

CBI chief Tony Danker said more foreign workers should be brought in to ‘plug the gaps’ in the labour market

Immigration minister Robert Jenrick rejected the idea, saying the government was determined to bring down net inflows and firms should focus on ‘training up, improving the skills of British people and getting them into the workforce’

The issue has come back into the limelight after the Office for Budget Responsibility revised its forecasts of net migration to the UK upwards.

In its economic and fiscal outlook last week the watchdog revealed it is now assuming that net migration will fall from 224,00 a year in 2023 to settle at 205,000 a year from 2026 onwards.

This compared to the OBR’s forecast in March, which estimated net migration to be 136,000 in 2023 and 129,000 a year from 2026 onwards. 

The OBR said its upward revision was based on ‘evidence of sustained strength in inward migration since the post-Brexit migration regime was introduced’, as well as discussions with the Home Office’s Migration Advisory Committee.

Think tanks suggested the OBR’s forecast of higher than expected net migration had averted the need for even bigger tax rises and deeper spending cuts than those set out by Mr Hunt in his Autumn Statement yesterday.

The OBR’s document highlighted how a ‘larger contribution from net migration’ was ‘offsetting slower growth in productivity’.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning, Mr Danker said: ‘When it comes to immigration, it’s quite interesting, when you look at the OBR report on Thursday, they said the only thing that’s really moved the needle on growth is by allowing in a bit more immigration.

‘The reason why it’s so important is we have literally over a million vacancies in this country, we have 600,000 people who are now long-term unwell, who aren’t coming back to the labour market any time soon.

‘That’s why we have to get this shortage occupation list – the list of people that we’re really missing that we aren’t going to get in Britain any time soon – and we have to get them to plug the gap while we re-calibrate the labour market in the medium term.

‘I’m afraid it’s one of those levers that does help you grow, doesn’t cost money, but I recognise it’s a tough political choice for Conservative politicians.’

The OBR is now assuming that net migration will fall from 224,00 a year in 2023 to settle at 205,000 a year from 2026 onwards

However, Mr Jenrick said British employers should look to the ‘domestic workforce’ if they are seeking ‘lower-skilled labour’ as he insisted the UK is committed to cutting net migration.

‘We want to bring down net migration. It’s something that is, as you say, very important to the British people and we’re on the side of the British people,’ he told TalkTV.

He added: ‘If British employers are looking for lower-skilled labour, then the first port of call should be the domestic workforce.

‘It should be training up, improving the skills of British people and getting them into the workforce – because there’s still five million British people who are not economically active, including about half a million who left the workforce around the time of the pandemic.

‘Those are the sorts of people that we as a Government are most concerned about. If they want to or can return to the workforce, we want to give them the skills to get back into it and British employers should be helping us to do that.’

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