Following the release of the EFRA Committee’s latest report on labour, the BPC says pragmatic policies and a willingness to engage must remain at the core of Government efforts to ‘level up.’
A future-fit British poultry meat industry depends on a dynamic combination of investment in technology and skills, revised immigration measures and a “shift in Government attitude,” warns the EFRA Committee in its latest report.
On the Committee’s newly launched Labour shortages in the food and farming sector, BPC Chief Executive, Richard Griffiths, said, “This report brings together three factors that can transform the labour challenge into an opportunity for UK food security, creating good jobs, and allowing businesses to flourish.
Immigration, skills, and technology underpin some of the challenges we face putting food on tables across the country; we need the political will behind them. We should be using this report as a lens to look at these three items as working together to maintain the integrity of supply chains today and to build resilience into them for tomorrow.”
The report calls for reviews to the Skilled Worker and the Seasonal Workers Visa Schemes, concluding the wider food and farming sector faces irreversible damage should the Government fail to design the UK’s immigration system around the current needs of the economy. This would not only give the British poultry industry necessary support to tackle short term and seasonal labour shortages, but give businesses the space to tap into Government’s longer-term ‘levelling up’ agenda, with a focus on a highly skilled domestic workforce and maximum productivity.
The report echoes BPC’s asks for further Government-industry collaboration to develop a plan to support the “development and deployment of technology combined with attractive educational and vocational training packages.”
Mr Griffiths added, “There is great potential in this area. British poultry meat businesses are ready to invest their energies into automation and technology to continue building a skilled workforce. They also recognise the importance of a long term skills focus to improve the appeal of the sector.
If Government are keen to put employers in the driving seat of a nationwide effort to ‘level up,’ then they must give businesses the keys to start the engine. The poultry meat industry would welcome Government backed loans to help businesses accelerate their plans to automate and upskill as quickly as possible, along with a commitment from specific departments to take the wider food and farming sector seriously, as noted in the EFRA report.”
Little progress can be made without a shift in Government mindset to “take seriously the concerns [industry] raises,” but this is not the first time the Committee have expressed this same frustration. In December 2021, the Committee held a session with Minister for Safe and Legal Migration, Kevin Foster MP, on the effects of the new immigration system following the end of free movement. Chair Neil Parish MP commented that “…you [Home Office] pat yourself on the back and say you’ve done a wonderful job on poultry workers, but it was only when you had huge pressure put on…you’re just not reacting in enough time.”
Mr Griffiths concluded: “A portion of this ongoing battle lies in convincing certain Government departments that food production is vital. The labour crisis is a solvable problem, but it requires pragmatism and an open mind. When we questioned why food and farming were not included on Government’s Lifetime Skills Guarantee, we were told by the Home Office that the Guarantee “aligns most strongly with strategic skills priorities and meet labour market needs.” Despite there being a national shortage of labour and much publicised risks to national food security, the businesses feeding the nation are not seen as a priority. That has to change. It is good to see the Committee’s report highlight this so strongly.”
As producers of half the meat eaten in this country, the British Poultry Council is asking for:
- Financial support from Government-backed loans to help businesses accelerate investment plans to automate and upskill the British poultry meat industry as quickly as possible.
- Vital food production to be kept at the heart of skills and education programmes to support meaningful change that will maximise the productivity of a future-proof sector. Reviewing the Apprenticeship Levy and the Lifetime Skills Guarantee will support building a skilled UK workforce.
- A review of the immigration system to ensure industry has the space and time to upskill a British workforce and invest in new technologies. Any changes or additions must be announced by May 2022 at the latest.
FILE: Read BPC’s evidence submissions x4 here:
Labour shortages in the food and farming sector – October 2021
The British poultry industry’s experiences of the new immigration system – December 2021
Labour shortages in the British poultry meat sector – January 2022
Labour shortages and the role of turkey imports – February 2022