‘Give migration experts visa powers’ - CBI Head

The panel of experts that advises the UK government on immigration matters should be given independent powers to relax visa requirements to solve current skills shortages, according to the head of the nation's largest business organisation.

visa cbi
Lord Karan Bilimoria, whose two-year term as president of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) is coming to an end, told a meeting of business chiefs and students at Oxford University's Said Business School that the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) needed powers not just to advise ministers but to implement sector-specific visa changes.

“Labour shortages have combined with an energy supply crunch amid existing supply chain challenges to present an extraordinarily tough set of circumstances," he said.

"Times are tough for businesses dealing with rising costs, and for people on lower incomes concerned about paying their bills and putting food on the table.

"“Short-term, the government should update the (immigration) shortage occupations list to relieve pressures, and add immediate flexibility to the apprenticeship levy, so firms can use those funds to access the labour and skills they need to succeed.

“Longer term, the government should make the Migration Advisory Committee independent, similar to the Low Pay Commission, so the UK’s immigration system can be more responsive to economic needs."

Lord Bilimoria said that the UK had a strong, globally-respected brand. "But," he added, "to step up and succeed in times of crisis also requires guts, boldness and a determination to always do the right thing.

“If we marshal those qualities, there is no end to what we can achieve. I have a vision for the UK. We are a truly great country, built on centuries of tradition and innovation after innovation.

“And we can be even greater. By having a competitive tax system. By having flexible labour markets allowing businesses to access the people they need. By investing in digital and physical infrastructure. By building the high productivity economy this country needs and deserves."

On energy, Lord Bilimoria said businesses had to remember that decarbonisation was "not an off-on switch" and that a green future depended on hydrogen, including for heating; on small modular nuclear reactors; and on solar and offshore wind power.

“And the green industrial revolution will create jobs. The UK now has a unique chance to become the world's first net-zero financial centre," he said.

“It is an enormous opportunity for growth too. With business leading from the front, we are all now recognising the global economic opportunity decarbonisation can be.”

On trade, Lord Bilimoria praised the Department for International Trade for rolling over existing European Union trade deals with non-EU nations, but he emphasised the UK still needed to normalise trade arrangements with the EU itself.

“The bottom line is that the outlook for UK exports remains far worse than our worldwide competitors. This has got to change," he said.

“Government also has an integral role to play.  Against the backdrop of the rising cost of doing business and continuing supply chain pressures, easing trade flows is in everyone’s interests. And normalising relations with our biggest and nearest trading partner is an economically smart thing to do.”

Read more news and views from David Sapsted, June articles.

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