A group of organisations from across the food and farming sector have written to the Prime Minister asking for a Covid Recovery Visa to be urgently introduced to alleviate crippling labour shortages across the supply chain.
The move follows an emergency roundtable convened by the NFU on Tuesday with representatives from the UK food supply chain to discuss the growing crisis, which has resulted in empty shelves in supermarkets and, in some cases, food left on farms unable to be picked up or processed.
The 12 organisations behind the letter include the NFU, Agricultural Industries Confederation, Food & Drink Federation, Federation of Whosale Distributers, Road Haulage Association and other groups representing the meat, dairy, cold chain and hospitality sector.
The groups agreed that short and long-term measures needed to solve this issue include:
- The introduction of a 12-month Covid Recovery Visa which would enable all involved throughout the supply chain to recruit critical roles as a short-term response to labour shortages.
- Commitment to a permanent, revised and expanded Seasonal Worker Scheme for UK horticulture to ensure it is flexible and large enough to meet the industry’s workforce needs.
- An urgent review by the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) on the impact of ending free movement on the food and farming sector, in the same way it is doing for adult social care.
'On a knife edge'
The letter to the Prime Minister said: “The food and farming sector remains on a knife edge due to the unprecedented shortages of workers across the entire supply chain. The industry came together in the summer to evidence these challenges, and the final report showed that there are an estimated 500,000 unfilled vacancies across the industry.
“The situation is not improving, in fact, images of empty supermarket shelves are becoming commonplace as labour shortages bite. As we move towards Christmas, there is a substantial threat of food inflation directly impacting the poorest families.
“That is why the entire UK food supply chain from farm supply to retail outlets are united in calling for an emergency Covid Recovery Visa to open up new recruitment opportunities as a matter of urgency. Without it more shelves will go empty and consumers will panic buy to try and get through the winter.
“It is a travesty that this is happening in parallel with UK food producers disposing of perfectly edible food as it either cannot be picked, packed, processed or transported to the end customer. Every day there are new examples of food waste across the industry, from chicken to pork, fruit and vegetables, dairy and many other products. The food is there, but it needs people to get it to the consumers.
“Our industry report also highlights vital mid to long-term solutions for accessing seasonal and permanent workers, and all remain equally important to ensure this situation does not arise again. But the supply chain will be critically damaged beyond recovery if it cannot overcome the immediate crisis.
“There have already been long-term consequences as businesses have had to take the decision to reduce production indefinitely or cease trading altogether. That is why we must have an urgent commitment from you to enable the industry to recruit from outside the UK over the next 12 months to get us through the winter.”