Civil Service World reports that UK government departments must take urgent action to address labour shortages in the agrifood industry or risk permanent damage to the sector.
In a report urging the whole of government to take the concerns of farmers and the agrifood sector more seriously, the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee said labour shortages caused by Brexit and worsened by the pandemic could shrink the sector permanently if the government fails to provide more support.
The government took too long to acknowledge the sector’s mounting concerns about labour shortages earlier last year and the temporary short-term visa routes for poultry workers, pork butchers and HGV drivers unveiled last autumn were “seriously deficient”, the report by Members of Parliament (MPs) said.
The MPs have called for the government to conduct a “comprehensive” lessons learned exercise on the performance of the schemes, which were unveiled last autumn amid concern in the lead up to Christmas about labour shortages in the sector.
The committee said the visas were introduced too late, with many workers unable to arrive in time to help the sector prepare for Christmas, and were not attractive due to the short notice and limited work period.
In August 2021, around 500,000 of the 4.1 million agrifood jobs in the UK went unfilled. The lack of workers particularly affected the pig industry, with at least 35,000 pigs culled last year due to a lack of butchers to process them.
The lessons learned review “must be informed by meaningful engagement with the sector” and the government should publish results of the study before the end of July, the committee said.