The boss believed to have been used by Amber Rudd to attack companies for recruiting too many foreign workers has revealed 75% of his workforce is British and says he is “very disappointed” by her comments.
Matt O’Flynn, managing director of sofa manufacturer Collins and Haye, was visited by the home secretary in 2015. He believes it was his firm she used on Wednesday to push a policy forcing companies to reveal the number of foreign staff they employ.
Rudd had appeared on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme, using the anecdote of having visited a factory that failed to recruit locally to defend her against claims the policy proposal was xenophobic and racist.
“I went and visited a factory quite recently where they recruit almost exclusively from Romania and Poland, where they have people who have experience in factories building these sofas that they have. They didn’t even consider training locally - there was a local college they could have worked with, but they choose to recruit outside the UK.”
But less than 24-hours later, O’Flynn hit back at Rudd saying 75% of his workforce was British.
“She’s our local MP and we are a company that’s been going through a lot of reorganisation and investment in infrastructure, so we wanted to show her what we were doing to invest in her constituency,” O’Flynn told the BBC on Thursday.
Asked how he felt about Rudd’s reaction to visiting the factory, he said he was “very disappointed”.
“We are very committed to working with the local community to bring in as much talent as we possibly,” O’Flynn said.
“75% of our employees are British and whenever we have an increase in demand, we have to bring in some skilled workers. In one of our departments we have a higher degree of foreign nationals than we do elsewhere in the business.
“That would be the only areas I can think of that Amber is getting her figures from.”
O’Flynn added to the Telegraph: “It’s always a shame to see the boomerang come round and hit you” and urged Rudd to consider a more “collaborative approach” to her immigration policies.
One customer at O’Flynn’s store backed him up, saying they bought a sofa from Collins and Hayes twenty years ago and expected his firm to “outlast digwhistle Amber Rudd”.
The Institute of Directors released a highly-critical statement after Theresa May appeared to back Rudd in her conference address as leader. “Business leaders are not pantomime villains,” the group said.
While one publishing group declared on Twitter:
Rudd has faced international condemnation, too. The Financial Times’ Kiran Stacey reported that the Sri Lankan prime minister had complained about the foreign workers policy at a speech in Delhi.
While the FT’s executive newspaper editor said French business radio had picked up on the move too, where one pundit had commented: “This is the atmosphere in England at the moment.”
Rudd began backtracking on the policy on Wednesday after a fierce backlash, hinting she could ditch the plan.
She said: “It’s not something we’re definitely going to do, it’s one of the tools we’re going to use as a review to see if we can use it as a way of nudging people to do better behaviour.”