There’s growing concern that the combined effect of the coronavirus pandemic and the UK’s departure from the EU will result in a summer shortage of food products. This is due to the significant impact the two events are having on the UK’s labour market, with shortages of workers particularly being felt across the food manufacturing industry.
The situation has been exacerbated by the delayed lifting of COVID-19 restrictions to 19th July at the earliest. This is preventing holidaymakers from going abroad, which means increased demand during a period of limited labour. The shortfall is being felt across the food supply chain and is expected to especially affect chilled and frozen supplies throughout the summertime.
Following the commencement of the Government’s new immigration policy, the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Committee is concerned that the UK food supply chain may not be able to secure sufficient labour. Having submitted a report in December 2020, the EFRA has recently published the Government's response, which failed to plan ahead for interrupted access to overseas seasonal workers.
EFRA’s main concern is that peak harvesting season is on the horizon and food production companies may not have enough time to recruit workers to carry out crucial farm tasks. MPs have also had to repeat their call for the Seasonal Worker Pilot scheme to be expanded so that it can incorporate other food supply chain and agricultural sectors, such as flowers.
The Chair of the EFRA Select Committee, Neil Parish MP, noted that despite last year’s Pick for Britain pilot scheme, EFRA made it crystal clear that overseas labour was still very much a priority. In spite of this, EFRA says that domestic labour will not be able to keep up with demand and the Government needs to take immediate action.
Meanwhile, a report by Glasgow-based STV News voices concerns that Scottish soft fruit could be left to rot in polytunnels due to there not being enough pickers available, many of which usually come from to the UK Eastern Europe. Adding to the problem is a shortage of drivers, which is also a repercussion of the COVID/Brexit crisis.
On a brighter note, a review conducted by the University of Lincoln shows that there are a few factors that enable the food chain to manage during difficult times:
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