Business leaders have attacked Labour leader Ed Miliband’s plans to make firms train a “local” apprentice for every foreign worker they employ.

John Longworth, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, labelled the proposal an “apprentice tax” on employers.

He said: “Businesses need to be able to choose the talents and resource they need and sometimes cannot find in the UK. This immigration benefits Britain. This is an apprentice tax on employers.”

We will require every large firm hiring a migrant worker from outside the EU to offer an apprenticeship in return.”

Meanwhile, the Confederation of British Industry said the plan — which Labour claim would produce up to 125,000 new apprentices — was unnecessary, as firms wanted to take on more apprentices regardless of immigration.

Neil Carberry, director of employment and skills, said: “These proposals could add to red tape. If we want to get more businesses offering apprentices, it will be crucial to keep bureaucracy to a minimum.”
It comes just days after the Hays’ Global Skills Index 2013 report called for a review of immigration policies to attract more skilled overseas workers.

It warned expanding industries, such as energy, IT and construction, had been unable to find enough skilled workers in the last year to fill their vacancies.

The report has cast further doubt on Labour’s proposal, which, it is argued, could deter firms from employing skilled immigrants.

Even Labour’s own House of Commons Business, Innovation and Skills Select Committee chair Adrian Bailey conceded the policy needed “a lot more work”.

“This has the potential to allow overseas workers to fill short-term skills gaps, but it could also encourage more domestic apprentices to be taken on to meet long-term skills needs,” he said.

“Concerns have been expressed about the policy. The Labour shadow team obviously needs to do a lot more work with industry to ensure this can be done in a way that will benefit all sides.”
Mr Miliband announced the proposal two weeks ago before Labour’s Brighton conference.

But Tory Skills Minister Matthew Hancock swiftly dismissed the idea, claiming it would be illegal under EU law to force firms to take on British-only apprentices.

Labour retaliated by insisting Mr Miliband meant firms would have to hire apprentices from EU countries — which would not be illegal.

And Shadow Immigration Minister Chris Bryant appeared to further soften the party’s position in a blog for the Huffington Post on Wednesday.

He said: “We will ensure companies have to invest in training local people, by requiring firms that wish to bring in workers from outside the EU offer apprenticeships in return.”

A spokesman for Labour’s leadership team insisted the party was standing by the original policy.

He said: “We will require every large firm hiring a migrant worker from outside the EU to offer an apprenticeship in return.”

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