12 JAN 2017

Helen backs seasonal agricultural permit scheme proposal

Maidstone and the Weald MP Helen Grant has welcomed comments from Immigration Minister Robert Goodwill indicating the proposed introduction of a Seasonal Agricultural Permit Scheme (SAPS) after Britain's exit from the EU.

The scheme, which could apply to either EU or non-EU workers, would allow migrants to work in agricultural positions for a period of up to six months.

A similar scheme, which was open to Bulgarian and Romanian workers, operated until 2014, and proved hugely popular with local farmers.

Mr Goodwill told the Lords EU Home Affairs Sub-Committee:

"I had a delegation from the National Farmers' Union at the end of last year saying could we introduce a seasonal agricultural workers' scheme for non-EU people. That's certainly one of the options that could be open to us post-Brexit."

The NFU estimates that horticulture employs more than 80,000 seasonal workers, and this number is set to increase to 95,000 by 2021. In the wake of the Brexit vote many in the industry fear that they will not have a pool of staff large enough to continue to produce high quality produce on a large scale without such a scheme in place.

Local farmer Peter Hall said:

"If this amounts to what it seems then it is absolutely most welcome news. This scheme is exactly what we have been asking for. The previous scheme was very successful, and provided the right calibre of staff to farms to allow them to produce high quality British goods.

If this comes to pass then it will be a great weight off our minds and it will give confidence to the industry. These proposals couldn't be more welcome."

Patrick Bowring, an NFU representative for the South East said: "Farming is the bedrock of the food & drink industry which is worth an estimated £108billion and employing 3.9m people. Without the proposed SAPS there is a very real risk the farming industry will simply not be able to continue producing the quality & quantity of crops, resulting in increased imports of fruit and veg to the UK."

Mrs Grant, who is a member of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Fruit and Vegetable Farmers, said:

"I am hugely encouraged by Robert's words. It is vital that the agriculture and food industry, which is so important to our economy, has access to the workforce it requires. I will certainly follow these developments with interest."

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