In an unprecedented act of cooperation, representatives from over 30 representative bodies in the UK food supply chain have signed an open letter calling on the Government to act to bring confidence to the labour market.
Open letter – 9 December 2016
UK food and drink is a vital core of our national infrastructure. Nearly four million people are employed in growing, harvesting, producing, packaging, selling and serving our food and drink. The hospitality industry alone generates 1 in 8 of all new jobs in the UK, while food manufacturing contributes more to the economy than the automotive and aerospace sectors combined. Food and drink exports are worth £18bn, with Scotch Whisky, chocolate, beer and salmon our top exports by value.
The issues at the heart of the UK’s future relationship with the EU are beginning to crystallise and so it is imperative that the strategic importance of food and drink to our nation’s economic and physical wellbeing is recognised and its future secured. In recent years, Britain has enjoyed access to a wider range of safe, high quality food and drink, at every price point, than ever before. At a time when household incomes are under increasing pressure, shop prices for food have been kept in check for more than three years. If that is to continue, the Government must ensure the place of food and drink in our new industrial strategy and it must place the sector’s priorities at the heart of the Brexit negotiations.
A significant element in our ability to deliver affordable and high-quality food and drink is the part played by workers from the European Union. Some of these people are already leaving the UK in the wake of the referendum result and the devaluation of Sterling. The Government can address this issue directly. It should offer unambiguous reassurance to EU workers throughout our supply chain about their right to remain here.
For the longer term it is important to recognise that these workers from the EU are highly flexible and provide a reservoir of skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled labour without which the industry could not function. In fact, in some sectors of the food chain EU workers predominantly work in skilled and semi-skilled roles.
If we are to adopt a work permit system to control immigration, then it is vital that the whole of the food and drink supply chain receives equal treatment with financial services or the automotive sector. All options should be explored including a workable points based system for shortage occupations, sector-based and seasonal / guest worker schemes and effective transitionary arrangements. If they are not, the UK will face less food choice and higher food prices.
The food and drink industry has not always spoken with one voice. Today it has come together in the national interest to make the strongest possible case for UK food and drink. That voice must be heard and heeded.
Ian Wright CBE
Director General of the Food and Drink Federation
Co-signed by chief executives of the following organisations:
Agricultural Industries Confederation
Association of Bakery Ingredient Manufacturers
Association of Cereal Food Manufacturers
Association of Labour Providers
Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers
British Beer and Pubs Association
British Coffee Association
British Frozen Food Federation
British Growers Association
British Meat Processors Association
British Poultry Council
British Retail Consortium
British Soft Drinks Association
British Specialist Nutrition Association
Federation of Bakers
Food and Drink Exporters Association
Fresh Produce Consortium
International Meat Trade Association
National Association of Catering Butchers
National Association of British and Irish Millers
National Association of Cider Makers
National Farmers Union
Northern Ireland Food & Drink Association
Snack, Nut and Crisp Manufacturers’ Association
Petfood Manufacturers Association
Potato Processors’ Association
Provision Trade Federation
Scotland Food and Drink
Seasoning and Spice Association
UK Flavour Association