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Government Failure to Tackle Labour Shortages Will Shrink Food Sector Permanently, Warn MPs

A report by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs committee has revealed that COVID19 and Brexit I’ve had a huge impact on the food and farming sector.

Despite the sector flagging significant concern, the shortage of labour in 2021 took a toll on food security, the welfare of animals and the mental health of those who work in the industry, MPs report.

The Committee said it was frustrated by the reluctance of Government to engage with the industry over labour shortages. Despite valiant attempts by the industry, Ministers failed to understand the issues and even sought to pass the blame onto the sector.

Today’s report urges Government to have a radical rethink to prevent future interventions coming too late.

Revised immigration measures could address the current crisis. For example, the Report calls for a review of the Skilled Workers Visa scheme including the complexity and costs faced by employers and tailoring the English language requirement to meet the needs of the sector.

While there have been welcome changes to the Seasonal Worker Pilot, the inclusion of the ornamental sector necessitates the Government to make available the extra 10,000 visas ear-marked and for the scheme to be made permanent.

However, a reliance on overseas labour must be reduced in preference for a long-term labour strategy that grows and develops home-grown talent, combining attractive education and vocational training packages with the deployment of new technology.

While the Committee welcomes some of the Government’s work in the area, it warns that without fundamental change, the UK is facing a chain reaction of wage rises, leading to price increases and food production being exported abroad.

UKHospitality CEO, Kate Nicholls, said: “This report echoes the evidence UKHospitality gave to the committee last year, which highlighted that chronic labour shortages – 400,000 vacancies in the sector at the last count – are already harming the attempts of businesses in the sector to rebuild cash reserves and shattered balance sheets. A failure to tackle the issue now will stifle the sector’s ability to drive the wider economic recovery and we share the committee’s warning that fundamental change is needed to if wage rises are not to trigger significant price increases in the sector, further damaging hopes of recovery.

“We want to work hand-in-hand with the Government to examine, review and reset all the policies that we had pre-Covid in order to ensure that the immigration, training and skills policies we have now are fit for purpose in a post-pandemic market.”