Businesses in Coventry and Warwickshire have been told that they can hire EU workers if they are struggling to recruit in the short-term but that the long-term answer is training and apprenticeships.

Members of the Coventry and Warwickshire Chamber of Commerce joined their counterparts in Northamptonshire for an online meeting with Dame Andrea Leadsom, MP for South Northamptonshire.

The former Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said firms could make use of a Skilled Worker visa for EU citizens to plug the gap.

She said: “Recruitment is a key issue as the economy recovers from the pandemic and I understand that there are many businesses out there in a range of sectors which can’t get the people they need to grow.

“Many EU citizens returned home to be with their families when the pandemic hit and haven’t come back to the UK and that has left a shortage of skilled people in some sectors.

“There is the opportunity to bring people into the UK from the EU on specialist visas to help companies grow but the long-term answer is training and development here in the UK.

“We have many more people unemployed across the country than we did at the start of the pandemic and this is the ideal time to be bringing through our own through training and apprenticeships.

“We want to see more of our young people getting into the world of work through apprenticeships and, also, through the Government’s Kickstart scheme, and it is important for businesses to have greater ties with their local schools.”

The MP also told companies that the energy crisis was not one of security but one of cost, while a shortage of some products was a supply chain issue. Both, she said, would be short-term problems.

When asked about a rise in National Insurance, Dame Leadsom said: “I am someone who is in favour of low tax and I completely understand that not all businesses agree with the NI rise but taxes have to be balanced with being fiscally sound.

“One of the reasons we have been able to support the economy in such a big way over the past 18 months is because we have had such a strong fiscal policy over the past decade.”

Sean Rose, head of policy at the Coventry and Warwickshire Chamber of Commerce, said: “We were extremely grateful to Dame Andrea Leadsom for addressing questions from businesses from across Coventry, Warwickshire and Northamptonshire in a direct and honest way.

“Firms across the region got the chance to raise the issues that are holding back growth and, as a Chamber, we are proud to help give companies their voice into decision-makers in this way.”