By s1jobs


The number of workers on UK company payrolls has surged above pre-pandemic levels after a record jump in September, yet at the same time vacancies have also hit another new high, adding fuel to the debate on the direction of the job market and the wider economy.

Latest official figures released last week by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show the number of payrolled workers rose by 207,000 between August and September to a record 29.2 million. That’s 122,000 more than before the pandemic struck in February 2020.

But the ONS also flagged the impact of the mounting recruitment crisis, with vacancies rising 318,000 above levels recorded before the onset of Covid. The number of unfilled jobs reached a one-month record in September at nearly 1.2 million, with estimates suggesting that all industries have at least as many vacancies as prior to the pandemic.


The situation is arguably even more acute in Scotland, with a monthly monitor from the Royal Bank of Scotland showed a similar surge in employment, vacancies nearing an all-time high and the number of available candidates “plummeting”.

Scottish Government ministers have categorically laid the blame for this at the feet of the UK’s Brexiteers, with External Affairs Secretary Angus Robertson denouncing the departure from the EU for “turning off the tap” of workers in this country. Though this ignores the impact of Covid on workers’ freedom of movement, there is little doubt Brexit has been the primary contributor to current labour shortages.

More than three-quarters of EU nationals in Scotland are of working age, while 81% are in employment. Figures also show that EU workers in Scotland contribute more to the economy in terms of hours worked – an extra 5% on average.

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Little wonder, then, that Scottish businesses from sectors ranging from agriculture and food production to transport, construction and IT regard access to EU labour as a fundamental concern. Survey after survey after survey has shown that restricting this source of workers is increasing costs and red tape associated with recruitment.

Apart from the temporary easing on visa applications for lorry drivers, appeals to the UK Government on changes to immigration controls have largely fallen on deaf ears. Royal Bank of Scotland chief economist Sebastian Burnside has therefore predicted labour shortages will likely become more pronounced in the coming months, with subsequent knock-on effects for companies seeking to expand operations.

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