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Government must ‘radically shift’ attitude to resolve labour crisis, say MPs

The Government must ‘radically shift’ its attitude and work with industry if the food and farming labour crisis is to be resolved, MPs have warned.

In a damning new report, the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee accused Ministers of failing to understand the issues which have led to a lack of staff in the horticulture, meat production and processing, poultry and logistics supply chains.

As well as recommending a number of short-term measures which could be taken to alleviate pressure on the industry, MPs on the committee urged the Government to produce a cross-departmental strategy setting out how technology and labour can meet the needs of the food and farming sectors in future.

The report read: “The Government must radically shift its attitude and work together with the sector to devise solutions which 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.”

The committee said a combination of Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic had led to shortfalls of workers in a number of key sectors.

It heard evidence that in July 2021, 10 per cent of cucumber growing members at Lea Valley Growers’ Association did not plant a third crop due to a lack of staff.

The British Meat Processors Association told MPs its members were around 15-16 per cent short on workers, while 10,000 vacancies were reported across all pork processing roles by the National Pig Association.

In the poultry sector, the British Poultry Council said there were 6,000 empty positions and some members had been forced to cut weekly chicken production by 5-10 per cent, reducing the range of products on offer to customers.

The report also noted that industry leaders were reporting an increasing impact on the mental health of staff, with many companies responding to the shortfall by asking people to work ‘longer, harder hours’.


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