By Denis Sheehan, Publisher, H&C News: EFRA Report: A damming indictment of Government’s post-Brexit immigration policy.
The latest Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee Report on labour shortages in the food and farming sector was published yesterday, under the stark headline: “Government failure to tackle labour shortages will shrink food sector permanently, warn MPs.”
The 43 page report sets out the scale and scope of the problems around rising job vacancies in hospitality and many other sectors of the food industry. Reading it in full you can’t escape the fact that Government, particularly the Home Office are found severely wanting by the report committee made up of 11 MPs, 6 Conservative, 4 Labour, and 1 Scottish National Party.
The report concludes: “The evidence we have taken leaves us in no doubt about the seriousness of the issues facing the food and farming sector caused by labour shortages.”
The report is a damming indictment of the Government’s immigration policy post-Brexit that within its conclusion reads: “The Government has ‘not’ demonstrated a strong understanding of these issues, and even on occasion sought to pass the blame onto the sector on the basis of incorrect information about its own immigration system.”
The report then recommends: “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. Failure to do so risks shrinking the sector and leading to higher food inflation at the price of the UK’s competitiveness, thereby making the country more reliant on food imports as we export our food production capacity—as well as the jobs it supports—abroad.
In August 2021 Kate Nicholls OBE, Chief Executive of UKHospitality, gave evidence to the report committee saying there had been a 10% vacancy rate within the hospitality sector since the end of lockdown in July 2021, which equated to around 200,000 people.
Nicholls went on to add that labour shortages in the sector, and broader supply chain issues, were suppressing revenues by 15 to 20%.
Yesterday Nicholls said of the final report: “This report echoes the evidence UKHospitality gave to the committee last year, which highlighted that chronic labour shortages are already harming the attempts of businesses in the sector to rebuild cash reserves and shattered balance sheets.
“A failure to tackle the issue now will stifle the sector’s ability to drive the wider economic recovery and we share the committee’s warning that fundamental change is needed to if wage rises are not to trigger significant price increases in the sector, further damaging hopes of recovery.
“We want to work hand-in-hand with the Government to examine, review and reset all the policies that we had pre-Covid in order to ensure that the immigration, training and skills policies we have now are fit for purpose in a post-pandemic market.”
Between the evidence given to the committee in Aug 2021 and yesterday, vacancies in hospitality have doubled to circa 400,000.
The report Summary sets out the committee’s findings as follows: “The food and farming sector has been suffering from acute labour shortages due principally to Brexit and the covid-19 pandemic.”
Back in August 2021 when evidence was being gathered it was all too obvious to the committee that the UK economy and especially its attempts to recover from the Covid pandemic were being slowed through post-Brexit immigration policy.
The Minister for Safe and Legal Migration, Kevin Foster MP came under repeated criticism from committee members and witnesses for the delay in temporary work visas for non UK nationals announced in September and October 2021.
The Provision Trade Federation and the UK Seafood Industry Alliance wrote that the “general industry consensus” appeared to be that the schemes were “too little, too late”, and cautioned that poor take-up of the available visas in the available time “should not be taken as indicating any lack of need, simply the practical difficulties of putting such arrangements in place so close to Christmas”.
Many different trade bodies repeated there was a lack of government planning post-Brexit, and delays in doing anything about the problems that they were warned repeatedly the food and farming sector would face.
The report committee in reply to this evidence reported: “We are concerned that, despite existing channels, the Government did not acknowledge the sector’s mounting concerns about labour shortages earlier in 2021. The Government should not have been “waiting for the data” before taking any action. It should have had contingency plans to mitigate the fairly obvious risks and developed specific measures far sooner in response to first-hand accounts being provided by the sector.”
Recommending: “the whole of Government needs a step change in how it engages with industry, taking seriously the concerns they raise and acting promptly on them.”