Migrants are essential for business growth, says CBI

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Indy Politics

Migrants are playing a vital part in overcoming one of the biggest barriers to business expansion by making up for a shortage of skilled workers, employers say.

The comments from the CBI, based on a survey of the London job market, contradict claims by opponents of an "open door" policy that east European immigrants are making a negligible contribution to Britain's wealth. Two thirds of the businesses surveyed warned that they expect skills shortages to be the biggest obstacle to growth in the first half of 2007. Almost half the respondents - 48 per cent - said they relied on staff from other EU countries, and 37 per cent said they were turning to non-EU nationals.

The findings run counter to claims in a report by MigrationWatch UK, suggesting that the economic benefits of immigration could be as low as 4p per head per week. MigrationWatch is a think-tank set up by a former British ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Sir Andrew Green, to campaign for tighter immigration control. Its report, published today, says immigration has trebled under Labour, and forecasts that it will increase again because of Bulgaria's and Romania's entry to the EU this week.

The report was welcomed by the Conservatives, who will be giving details of their policy on border controls today. David Davis, the shadow Home Secretary, said: "The figures in this report contrast sharply with what the Government claim and betray a chronic deficit of information on immigration. In order to control immigration you need to have accurate information about its level and effects. The Government patently has neither."

Susan Anderson, CBI director of human resources Policy, said: "MigrationWatch is seeking to score a few cheap political points with these figures but the benefits of migration need to be looked at more deeply. Migrants to the UK bring valuable skills and ideas with them and help to fill job vacancies where Britons are unable or unwilling to do so.

"Their taxes help pay for our public services and our pensions, long after many migrants have returned home. Their presence also helps keep inflation low at a time when there are forces pushing the other way."

Brendan Barber, TUC general secretary, said: "Migrant workers fill an important gap in the UK's growing labour market. Independent reports show that migrants are net contributors to government revenue while giving our economic growth a major boost."

Vince Cable, the Liberal Democrat Treasury spokesman, criticised ministers for failing to "make the case" for immigration. He said competition from migrant workers helped drive costs and inflation down, but warned that action was needed to offset the effects of increased pressure on the housing market and public services.