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JdJonathan Djanogly is Member of Parliament for Huntingdon.  Follow Jonathan on Twitter.

Without
fanfare or boast, some parts of the UK are doing rather well.  The East of England for instance is one of
the few regions which is a net contributor to rather than taker from the
national economy.  In my constituency of
Huntingdon, with an unemployment rate of around two percent, frankly, to be
without a job is generally either a temporary state of affairs or a lifestyle
decision.

Given
that the employment pool is so sparse, my constituency’s employers would most
likely think I had lost my marbles if I advocated the return of their Polish
and Latvian workers.  That is their
efficient, willing and hardworking staff, who in some cases form over eighty percent
of their workforce.  Likewise, further
north into the fens, farmers are concerned that their Romanian and Bulgarian
crop pickers will disappear once those countries’ workers are given general
access to our job markets in 2014.  Of
course the assumption is that their places will be filled by Ukrainians and
other non accession nationals – it being given that British youth would rather
pick up benefits than crops.  Clearly,
the short term imperative of business to fill positions, is at variance with
the long term need to increase opportunities for young British people.

Many are
now speculating why Labour allowed immigration to rise to 591,000 a year by
2010.  Some believe that it was a
political manoeuvre to bolster the cities’ suburbs with, what they hoped would
be, Labour voting immigrants.  However, I
personally go for the economic view that, at a time of rapid growth, Labour were
providing the work-force that their own policies were failing to deliver in the
UK – moreover, a work-force that was
cheap.  It is interesting to note that
this was the first time in the post-war period that growth did not go hand in
hand with significant wage inflation for the low paid.  Of course it should not have required an
abundance of foresight to realise that the short term economic benefits of ramping
immigration were in effect a bandage covering some very serious structural
failings in our society and our economy.


The
opening of the immigration gates by the last Labour administration has caused
many deep societal problems.  This
includes the unbalancing of the subtle and delicate intra-ethnic community
relationships that form a key role in the life of our cities.  Perhaps, this is not an issue for relatively
non diverse Huntingdon – but go 15 miles up the A1 to Peterborough, and you
will see my point.

More
fundamentally however, the reliance on cheap immigrant labour papered over the growing
problem of young British people not wanting to work because we had a welfare
system that allowed them not to work. 
Furthermore, it concealed our having an education system that was
failing adequately to prepare young people for the vocational work that
business was demanding.

The
situation was brought home to me when a leader of my local Bangladeshi
community came to my constituency surgery recently to lobby on behalf of local
Indian restaurants.  In effect he said
that Indian restaurants are having problems recruiting staff, following the
recent reduction in immigration.  Years
ago, staff would enter the UK using work permits and, more recently, student
visas.  But now that immigrant staff need
to be paid high minimum salaries or  pay
full university tuition fees,  this was
not viable.  I suggested that he look to
recruit amongst Bangladeshi communities in other parts of the country, where
there is high unemployment.  He said that
this didn’t work as second generation Bangladeshis were just as likely not to
want to work as their non immigrant family counterparts.  Clearly, there is no getting away from the
need to solve the long term issues.

The drive
by the Coalition Government to reduce net immigration, to “tens rather than
hundreds of thousands” is therefore admirable. 
To this end we should recognise the significant achievements made, with
net immigration falling by one third since the last General Election.  At the same time however there are questions
being asked as to whether this fall will be sustainable when the economy
returns to stronger growth.  Given the
demands that I see from business in my own constituency I think this unlikely,
unless we answer the underlying structural issues required to ensure that;  young people who can work do work and improving
vocational training.

This is
why I wholly agree with the Work and Pensions Secretary recently speaking out against
the Archbishop’s criticism of Government’s proposals to cap out of work
benefits.  It is also why I support the
Government’s proposals to deny welfare to those young people who do not wish to
“earn or learn”.  The moves towards
improving vocational options within schools and significantly extending
apprenticeship schemes are all part of a long term strategy that will provide
our businesses with more locally sourced workers.

Of
course, to reverse Labour’s massive structural damage will not happen overnight.  Cheap jibes leveled against immigration or
the often significant immigrants’ contribution, can be both unfair to the
workers and often counterproductive to the UK’s business interests; if not
sometimes only motivated by base prejudice. On the other
hand, the Government’s long term objectives and narrative need to be improved
and explained, if people are to realise what is being attempted;  let alone if political credit is to be
earned.

Long term
issues apart, there are also more immediate issues to deal with.  Given the significant amount that is being
done, both in terms of short-term reduction in numbers and long term
restructuring, it may surprise many that polls seem to show that people do not
feel that the Government are acting on immigration.  Could it be that this is indicative of
presentational and credibility issues for the Government that go to much wider
subjects than immigration?

Clearly, however, there is also some confusion, emanating from 10 Downing
Street on short term immigration strategy. 
On the one hand, the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary are talking
tough on reducing immigration, but on the other hand the Business and Culture
Secretaries and sometimes the Prime Minister talk about immigration in the
context of opening our doors to foreign trade and putting out the red carpet to
overtaxed foreigners.  I don’t think that
these objectives are necessarily incompatible, if we can get across the concept
of welcoming the right people; namely, those whom we want and who will
contribute – rather than take.

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