FEARS that Scotland could lose skilled workers to other parts of the UK because of Brexit-fuelled labour market shortages have been voiced by the new head of the Confederation of British Industry north of the Border.

Tracy Black highlighted these worries as she flagged the importance of “friction-free trade” with the European Union. She also underlined the importance of boosting Scottish productivity and growth, and encouraging more companies to export.

Companies and industry bodies across myriad sectors have, since the June 2016 Brexit vote, expressed fears over future access to the skills and labour they need.

Ms Black, in an interview with The Herald, highlighted the importance of workers from other EU countries to Scotland’s businesses and economy, and flagged skills shortages as the biggest single concern among member companies.

She said: “Of course, Brexit is not going away...While immigration is something that affects all of the UK, in Scotland we have the impact of a declining population and also needing workforce across all skills.

“Yes, we need our high-skilled doctors and people coming into the financial services [sector] but our farmers need their seasonal workers. We need an immigration system that works for everyone.”

Ms Black, who succeeded Hugh Aitken as CBI Scotland director on January 1, warned: “There is a concern, if there is a shortage of labour across the United Kingdom, we lose skills from Scotland to the rest of the UK.”

She noted this worry had already been raised with the CBI in Scotland by the likes of the construction sector.

Ms Black said: “It has happened before, in the eighties, losing talent.”

She added: “That is a real concern. We do produce excellent graduates and most of our companies are doing great apprenticeship schemes now. Skills are going to be in demand. It is [addressing] how you keep your Scottish engineers, how you keep your graduates in digital and technical skills in Scotland. It is across the gamut the concerns are being raised.”

Ms Black noted the CBI was providing the Scottish Government and Westminster with case studies to inform them, as the Brexit negotiations proceeded.

She said: “At the moment, it is just making sure government is fully aware of the needs and requirements so decisions are decisions made on evidence.”

On the issue of immigration, Ms Black added: “I think the Scottish Government is fully aware, particularly of the demographics. We all know that Scotland has an ageing population. We all know that Scotland has had a lot of European workers working across [sectors], whether it is in tourism, agriculture…or the NHS.”

Ms Black signalled the thoughts of CBI members in Scotland were focused on Brexit, rather than on whether there might be a second independence referendum.

She said: “For my members, without doubt their biggest concern is ‘How can we make sure we can carry on doing our day jobs pre-Brexit to post-Brexit?’.

“They are very much focused on ‘Can we make sure we get the best deal possible post-Brexit?’ rather than worrying ‘Is there going to be another referendum?’.”

Ms Black flagged businesses’ worries about future immigration policy, and highlighted the need to ensure supply chains and exporting were not disrupted by Brexit.

She noted businesses welcomed the prospect of a transition deal between the UK and EU, but declared this should be “put out in writing, put out now”.

Highlighting the major potential for Scottish companies to increase their exports to European markets, she said: “There is a lot of work to be done on markets that are right on our doorstep. It is not as if we have exhausted them.”

Asked whether Scotland could be hit disproportionately hard by post-Brexit restriction of immigration, Ms Black said: “It depends on where the restrictions are. A lot of talk is around [the need for] high-skilled workers. That is a very comfortable area.

“It is all areas. The Scottish salmon farms, the hotels up in the Highlands, the NHS: all rely on workers from across Europe.”

Ms Black added: “It has got to be a deal that works for the whole of the United Kingdom, not just parts of the United Kingdom or sectors of the United Kingdom. The ageing population is more pronounced in Scotland.”

She signalled members, as things stand, favour a UK-wide immigration policy rather than bespoke arrangements for Scotland.

Ms Black said: “The Scottish members, at this point in time, they would much rather be working with one system. A lot of our employers are working across the United Kingdom.”

However, she added: “It is one to keep an eye on.”

She said post-Brexit immigration arrangements with the EU should be “simple and flexible".

Ms Black added: “We have low unemployment, diminishing working-age population because of the ageing population. We don’t want companies sitting there with jobs to be filled but unable to fill them.”

Asked what might help persuade workers to stay in Scotland, rather than move to other parts of the UK, she replied: “I suppose I could mention the word ‘tax’. We don’t want to be at a disadvantage to other parts of the country.”

Citing council tax, and land and buildings transaction tax, she added: “It is not just income tax – it is the whole package. We don’t want to get too far away from everyone else.”

Asked if she viewed Scotland as far away at the moment on tax, Ms Black replied: “The question is ‘Once you have done it once [used differential tax powers], will you keep using that as a solution?’. Whereas, our focus [is] on ‘How can we improve productivity? How can we improve growth?’. We would much rather be higher wages, higher-skilled jobs as the route out of this.”

Ms Black said: “We are all aware Scottish growth, and our productivity performance, isn’t where we would like it to be.”