The UK has been hit with worker shortages that has seen supplies of petrol dry up, roads outside fuel stations turn into car parks and even altercations while people are waiting to reach the pump. But Baron Bilimoria, 59, a crossbencher in the House of Lords, has accused the Government of failing to listen to warnings he issued in the Upper House in June 2021.
Speaking on the BBC’s flagship current affairs programme, the Indian-born businessman said: “I look back to Hansard in June in the House of Lords, I challenged the Government [when] I said what are you going to do about the shortage of Labour, including of lorry drivers, there is a huge shortage, a 100,000 shortage.
“And they said: ‘No, you skill them over here’.
“I said open up the immigration emergency list.
“The deal we have with the points-based immigration system after leaving the EU is that if there is a shortage in any sector you listen to organisations like the Migration Advisory Committee and then you’re allowed to bring in the workforce that you need.”
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Baron Bilimoria asked: “Now how much more desperate can you get than this?”
“And the Government wouldn’t listen!”, he complained.
Hansard records show Baron Bilimoria did indeed challenge the Government over immigration, shortages and lorry drivers.
“As President of the CBI”, he told his fellow peers, “I know that employers are facing [a] storm of staff shortages as the economy reopens.”
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But he then asked the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Transport, Baroness Vere of Norbiton: “Does the Minister agree that the Government should immediately update the immigration shortage occupation list, as well as helping workers to gain skills?”
The 52-year-old replied bluntly by saying: “I think that I have already answered the noble Lord’s first question.”
But in Birmingham, where Baron Bilimoria is chancellor of the university, the CBI President added that the Government’s immigration pivot was too limited.
“We’ve got to improve the conditions for them, we’ve got to give them attractive enough pay but you’ve also got to give them some certainty of a much longer period than three months,” he said.
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The Government’s current plans to hand out temporary visas to foreign workers will only last up to Christmas Eve raising concerns about the crisis resurfacing in the future.
But Baron Bilimoria, who founded Indian beer brand Cobra in 1989, did provide balance to his onslaught on the Government.
“This is the thing I’ve found out about the Government, they’ve been brilliant at helping business throughout this pandemic – £400billion worth of support, the job retention scheme – but quite often with the CBI we say look we spot the problem, here’s the solution and the Government doesn’t immediately listen, they eventually listen.
“They could have listened earlier!”
The Indian-born businessman appeared on the Question Time panel in Birmingham alongside Labour Shadow Child Poverty Minister Wes Streeting, Tory Environment Secretary George Eustice, Love Island star Amy Hart and journalist Ella Whelan.
Next week Fiona Bruce will be joined by a panel that will include Shadow Foreign Secretary Lisa Nandy and comedian Rosie Jones as Question Time moves down the M40 to Aldershot in Hampshire.