Government’s Christmas focus must now shift into the longer-term, the British Poultry Council suggest.
The British Poultry Council has submitted further evidence into the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee’s inquiry into labour shortages in the food and farming sector, suggesting that Government’s seasonal focus must shift into a longer-term mindset, extending that willingness to engage with the industry to solve the wider labour crisis.
Following evidence submissions from industry bodies over the year, the Committee held a session with the Minister for Safe and Legal Migration at the Home Office, Kevin Foster MP, questioning him on the new immigration system and its effects on the sector following the end of free movement.
Chair Neil Parish MP commented on the positive engagement the poultry industry had had with officials on seasonal production, saying that “…you 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 the Home Office…you’re just not reacting in enough time.”
The poultry industry was granted 5500 temporary work visas to support short term seasonal supply following calls to extend the Seasonal Agricultural Workers’ Scheme to the sector – around half of which have been taken up, but this figure remains unconfirmed, as stated by Mr Foster in yesterday’s session, though he acknowledged the figure as “reasonable.” The scheme has proven successful this year but has undoubtedly demonstrated the importance of adopting realistic policies that enable British businesses to drive productivity, create good jobs and keep food moving to strengthen food security for Christmas and beyond.
The Committee echoed BPC’s calls for “flexibility,” with Mr Parish stating: “We need the Home Office to respond to what farmers and businesses are saying and to stop blaming the sector for being at fault. We need an effective cross-Government food and farming labour strategy that deals with immigration and other issues – and we need it fast.”
BPC Chief Executive Richard Griffiths said: “We must not forget that the problems we have seen with seasonal production are reflective of long-term, year-round production. Christmas has been a successful first step and demonstrates the potential there is for Government and industry to collaborate to turn the challenges with face with labour into an opportunity for change.
Whilst industry plays its part investing in automation and upskilling to build that home-grown workforce, a scheme designed for non-UK poultry workers to enter the UK over a period of eighteen months to two years must be realised to ensure productivity does not decline.
If we can collaborate as successfully as we have done with seasonal production, then we have the means to transform the longer-term year-round labour challenge into an opportunity to bolster UK food security, create good jobs, allow viable businesses to flourish and create a greener food sector.”
As producers of half the meat eaten in this country, the British Poultry Council is asking for:
- The implementation of a similar scheme designed for non-UK labour to enter the UK over a period of two years to ensure industry has the space and time to upskill a British workforce and invest in new technologies. The announcement of the scheme must take place in Spring 2022 to make the opportunity meaningful to both employers and employees.
- 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 such as the Lifetime Skills Guarantee to support meaningful change that will maximise the productivity of a future-proof sector. Proper investment in the Apprenticeship Levy will support in levelling up the appeal of the sector to build a skilled UK workforce.
The British poultry industry understands that this is a process that will take time and are asking for support to ensure that the right technology is rolled out, the right skills programmes are in place and the right investments are made to maintain the integrity of supply chains. Mr Griffiths said: “Technology, a focus on skills and education and a non-UK workforce can coexist temporarily to avoid jeopardising our ability to feed the nation.”
Read our evidence submission below: