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Government Must Solve Labour Shortages to Increase Food Production

26 May 2022

The Association of Labour Providers (ALP) is calling on the Government to take urgent action to fix UK labour shortages following a statement delivered by Victoria Prentis MP in a Westminster Hall debate, yesterday 25th May.

During the debate on recruitment support for the agriculture sector the Minister of State at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: “Indeed, we have ambitions in DEFRA to increase food production—particularly in areas such as fruit and veg, where we traditionally have low levels”.

The ALP, the trade body representing businesses that source and supply the UK’s food workers, has today written to ministers asking for immediate and urgent collaboration to ease the labour shortages faced by UK food businesses.

David Camp, ALP Chief Executive, said it’s time for Government to fix the biggest issue affecting UK food production.

“The UK food and farming workforce keeps our nation fed,” explained David. 

“Hailed as ‘Britain’s Food Heroes’ during the pandemic, this workforce is often taken for granted; that is until supermarket shelves run empty. Whilst we welcome the ambition of the Minister, with 1.26 million people unemployed and 1.3 million job vacancies, there are simply not enough workers for essential sectors like ours, and we need Government to work with the food industry to fix this.’’

The ALP’s May 2022 Food Labour Market Survey found that almost half (49%) of UK food growers and manufacturers have rationalised or reduced their output owing to labour shortages. Over three quarters (77%) of these businesses are experiencing shortages of lower and unskilled workers, with 45% stating that these shortages are chronic.

The August 2021 Establishing the labour availability issues of the UK Food and Drink Sector report identified, “potentially in excess of 500,000 job vacancies” from a workforce of 4.1 million, equivalent to a 12.5% structural vacancy rate.

David continued: “The Government claims they are listening, this is not the experience of the food industry. The mood amongst growers and producers is one of frustration, exasperation and anger.” 

As a food business put it when responding to the ALP’s survey: “If the government wants to reduce food imports and strengthen the resilience of home-produced produce, then it will have to change policy and allow producers access to sufficient labour to get the job done.

“The present crisis in production is entirely due to government policy and if left unchanged will lead to very large increases in imports and an equal reduction in home produced food. It is a simple choice.”

The British Retail Consortium warns that if labour shortages are not resolved soon, “we will start to see production being lost from the UK and being offshored, and then imported back into the UK” and that labour shortages “threaten to shrink the sector permanently with a chain reaction of wage rises and price increases reducing competitiveness, leading to food production being exported abroad and increased imports.”

And a House of Commons Committee report published in April 2022 (Labour shortages in the food and farming sector) concluded that, “the UK’s largest manufacturing sector faces permanent damage if the Government fails to address the lack of workers.” 

The Committee of MPs recognised, “a need, at least in the short term, to increase the overall supply of labour through revised immigration measures to address the current crisis”. 

They also advised that, “The Government must radically shift its attitude and work together with the sector to devise solutions that speedily help address the problems it faces, in the short, medium and long-term to help the UK’s food industry and enable it to thrive.”

The ALP is asking the Government for urgent strategic collaboration with the food industry to address labour shortages around a five-point plan:

  1. A national plan to attract domestic resident workers to the UK food industry
  2. Immediate release of this season’s 10,000 agreed seasonal worker visas and work to identify the actual number needed for this and future years
  3. Extend the seasonal worker route to other key sectors such as meat and poultry processing
  4. Match Skilled Worker visa language requirements with those needed for the job
  5. Improve the processing speed of all worker visa routes

David Camp, concluded: “If food security is indeed top of the Government’s agenda, then it must demonstrate this by working with the UK food industry to address the key factor limiting home grown production.”

Ends

Notes to Editors

  • The ALP is the specialist trade association promoting responsible recruitment and good practice for organisations that source and supply the workforce to the food processing, agricultural and wider consumer goods supply chain.
  • The full ALP May 2022 Food Supply Chain Labour Survey can be found here
  • ALP policy paper Addressing UK Food Industry Labour Shortages can be found here

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