Anger at PM’s depopulation meeting snub

Brendan O'Hara MP
Brendan O'Hara MP

Local MP Brendan O’Hara has accused the Prime Minister of turning her back on Argyll and Bute’s “depopulation crisis”.

Mr O’Hara (SNP) claims Theresa May ignored a call for a meeting with him and Argyll and Bute Council’s chief executive Cleland Sneddon to discuss the issue.

This follows recent reports from the Scottish Rural Affairs Committee that Argyll and Bute is set to lose around four per cent of its population by 2026.

In an attempt to address this crisis, Mr O’Hara and Mr Sneddon are proposing to pilot a Regional Immigration Scheme to help ensure that businesses and public services in Argyll and Bute have access to skilled labour to support the economy and its ambitions for growth in the future

The pilot scheme would adopt a flexible approach to immigration, as happens in Canada in Australia, where specific work visas are approved for areas of need.

The Home Office told the Buteman it has no plans to implement such a scheme.

Mr O’Hara asked the Prime Minister if she would meet with him and the council’s chief executive to discuss a devolved or regionalised immigration strategy.

He said: “Rural Scotland is facing a serious crisis of depopulation and it is a crisis that is only going to be exacerbated by Brexit.

“Rural communities, like Argyll and Bute rely heavily on inward migration, particularly EU citizens, who want to come to work in many of our economic sectors and it is deeply disappointing to hear that the Prime Minister is not willing to tackle this issue.

“If the population of Argyll and Bute continues to decrease we’ll all feel the effects as fewer people means less folk spending money in our local shops, fewer kids in our schools, a shortage of staff in our hospitals and less demand for essential services. All leading to cuts in services for those of us who remain.

“But it doesn’t have to be this way and that is why I asked the Prime Minister to meet with me and the chief executive of Argyll and Bute Council to discuss the proposal that Argyll and Bute becomes a pilot for such a scheme.

“To be snubbed at this early stage and for the PM to simply dismiss these concerns is outrageous and shows scant regard for the future welfare of this constituency.

“I will continue to pursue this policy and make the case for devolved or regional immigration. The days of a ‘one-size-fits-all’ UK immigration policy are over. It has failed miserably to date and needs to change urgently.”

A Home Office spokesman said: “We would like to commend Argyle and Bute for their inspirational work in supporting the Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme and resettling over 100 refugees to help them rebuild their lives in safety.

“Our immigration system is designed to work for the whole of the UK. We have no current plans to introduce a devolved immigration system.

“Scotland, as well as other devolved governments, have different ways available to encourage more individuals and families to move to their part of the UK.”