Tories say migrants are not the solution to shortages

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Indy Politics

Plans to solve Britain's skills shortage by encouraging workers from abroad to come here were attacked by the Conservatives yesterday.

Plans to solve Britain's skills shortage by encouraging workers from abroad to come here were attacked by the Conservatives yesterday.

Ann Widdecombe, the shadow Home Secretary, said ministers should concentrate on providing more training for British citizens rather than allowing others to come here.

It was reported yesterday that the plans, first announced by the Home Office minister Barbara Roche in July, could bring an extra 100,000 people to Britain each year.

But Miss Widdecombe said the existing work permit system allowed labour to be imported where the necessary skills could not be found. "I'm not against bringing in skills from outside, but what doesn't make good economic sense is to use that as a first resort, rather than trying to skill your own workforce first," she said.

Ms Roche said in July that Britain must think "imaginatively" about how migration could meet economic and social needs. She is expected to flesh out the plan in a speech in London next Monday.

Yesterday her Home Office colleague Mike O'Brien suggested that the estimate of 100,000 extra immigrants a year was exaggerated. "It appears to hinge on the issue of some sort of points system, which we're not really considering at the moment," he said. "Barbara Roche indicated that we were looking at the shortages and how to deal with those, but this sort of idea ... is largely exaggerated."

The plan would reverse Britain's 30 year-old "closed door" policy for migrants attempting to enter in search of work. Since the early 1970s the only people allowed to come to Britain permanently have been asylum-seekers, those with close relatives here and exceptionally rich individuals who have been allowed in to set up businesses. But ministers are now concerned by the growing shortages of specialist skills in areas such as health and information technology.

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