Soaring vacancies lead to 'ease visa' calls

A new record high in the number of job vacancies in the UK has led to renewed calls for an easing of post-Brexit immigration rules.

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The Office for National Statistics (ONS) revealed on Tuesday that, between August and October, the vacancy tally reached an unprecedented 1.172 million, with the provisional figure for last month being put at 1.3 million. And despite the furlough scheme ending in September, there were 160,000 more workers on payrolls in October than in the previous month. The unemployment rate has fallen to 4.3 per cent, close to its pre-pandemic low.
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'Success of the furlough scheme'

Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rushi Sunak, said the data proved the success of the furlough scheme, which was introduced as the pandemic hit in the spring of 2020 and which saw the Treasury paying most of the wages of workers temporarily unable to work because of coronavirus lockdowns.There had been fears that, when the scheme ended in September, tens of thousands of workers would be made redundant.Tuesday's figures showed that had not happened. Mr Sunak said the data demonstrated "the extraordinary success of the furlough scheme". He added: “We know how vital keeping people in good jobs is, both for them and for our economy – which is why it’s fantastic to see the unemployment rate falling for nine months in a row and record numbers of people moving into employment."

Concerns grow on skills shortages

However, the growing number of vacancies is a mounting concern to UK businesses, not least because freedom of movement for EU workers ended with Brexit.The ONS data came on the heels of a survey conducted by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), which found that 47% of employers reported having hard-to-fill vacancies. More than a quarter expected the situation to get worse in the next sixth months.According to the CIPD, the current, rapid expansion in hiring plans by almost three-quarters of the companies surveyed, coupled with a fall in domestic labour supply, underlined the need for a  temporary job mobility scheme for young EU nationals.Gerwyn Davies, Senior Labour Market Adviser for the CIPD, said more business support from Government was needed to help employers increase their capability to invest in skills and create better quality and more productive jobs.He added: “The research findings strengthen the case for extending the existing Youth Mobility Scheme. This would prove a timely, cheap and effective ‘safety valve’ to help ease immediate labour shortages."

Immigration re-think

Suren Thiru, Head of Economics at the British Chambers of Commerce, said the figures showed more skills should be added to the immigration system's Shortage Occupation List to enable the UK to attract much-needed, overseas talent.“Record job vacancies suggest that the chronic staff shortages encountered by businesses are intensifying and this could derail the recovery by forcing firms into a more long-lasting decline in their operating capacity," he warned.“More significant support is needed to help firms access the skills they need when they can’t recruit locally, including supporting the hardest hit sectors through expansion of the Shortage Occupation List.”Matthew Percival, Director of People and Skills at the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), said that while the jobs outlook remained strong, ongoing supply chain issues, labour shortages and record high vacancies had put a brake on growth.“The Supply Chain Advisory Group is a positive development, demonstrating the government’s willingness to work in partnership with business to tackle current challenges," he said. "Companies will continue to face these issues well into the New Year, so it’s important this spirit of collaboration is maintained to safeguard the UK’s economic recovery.”Kitty Ussher, Chief Economist at the Institute of Directors, said the ONS data showed that "the government’s policy to support jobs while the economy recovered has largely paid off".

Read more news and views from David Sapsted

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