Migrant workers the key to Britain's success

BRITAIN will need more economic migrants to restore it to international competitiveness, the head of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development told Yorkshire business leaders.

Angel Gurra, secretary-general, said labour migration would be needed because of Britain's ageing population and the number of people who were unemployed or who said they were too ill to work.

He also lambasted Western governments for the failure of their regulatory systems in the run-up to the financial crisis and said the UK's regions could lead the country to economic recovery and a low-carbon future.

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Mr Gurra, who was speaking at Leeds University, said: "The planet cannot stand our production and consumption patterns any longer. That's a fact.

"Without a global shift to a greener, low-carbon economy, the world is on track for increasing greenhouse gas emissions by 70 per cent by 2050, and temperature increases of 4 to 6C by the end of the century. This is far from the target countries recently agreed in Copenhagen of staying within a 2C increase. And, clearly, a 4-to-6C increase would lead to devastating effects on the economy, on human health and welfare, and on the environment."

The former Mexican foreign affairs minister also said that Yorkshire had to "catch up" economically with the rest of the UK but added that the Government should play a part in this, particularly on green technologies.

"Green growth is not only a concern of national governments. The regions have a crucial role to play in this transformation. Cities generate 70 per cent of carbon emissions, and politicians are realising that the economic future of their cities depends on pro-active green growth strategies."

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Mr Gurra was invited to the university, where he and his wife studied as postgraduates in the 1970s, to a seminar with the Northern Way, an alliance of regional development agencies (RDAs).

He told the Yorkshire Post: "There has to be attention by national governments in order to tackle a greater disparity among the regions but also in things like tertiary education and research and development, both business R & D and public expenditure in R & D.

"The existence of RDAs that can bring in a clustering of industries that can attract the kind of synergies that will make the region attractive and will make it known in the UK but also in Europe and the world to come and install (locate] here.

"More and more, in Europe in particular, the competition is among regions, whereas the political frontiers of countries are not as important."

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Britain also needs to do more than it had so far to attract economic migrants here, he said.

"Once the economy gets on an even keel, maybe you need to activate your migration policies, which means you have to make sure migrants are well integrated, through education.

"In the UK, you have been promoting migration now for some time. When I studied here, in 1973 and 1974, Bradford and some of the surrounding areas had a very large population of migrants, mainly from the Indian sub-continent."

Mr Gurra also said that Britain would have to look at increasing the retirement age, and helping young people and women who have had children, get back into work.

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He also said there should be more transparency in the way banks separated their deposit-taking arms from their higher-risk investment businesses, but stopped short of a formal split along the lines of the American Glass Steagall act.

Angel Gurra

Angel Gurra, who studied for an MA in Economics at Leeds University in the 1970s, previously held high-ranking positions in his native Mexico.

The Tampico-born expert was Foreign Affairs Minister and Finance and Public Credit Minister before becoming OECD secretary-general in June 2006.

Since then he has pursued internal modernisation and reform and the OECD has opened membership talks with Chile, Estonia,

Israel, Russia and Slovenia and agreed to strengthen links with emerging economies.