FPC calls on UK Government to avoid a ‘perfect storm’ in 2021

Unless the UK Government changes its proposed plans for future trading with the EU it will damage the UK plant and cut flower industry, create shortages and increase prices for UK consumers, says the Fresh Produce Consortium.

“We are not confident that government departments will adopt the most effective solutions to support the UK floral industry,” said Nigel Jenney, Chief Executive of the FPC.

“The UK Government is calling for businesses to prepare for the end of the transition period yet there are so many unanswered questions at present. How can an industry prepare when it lacks essential information and does not know if it will have sufficient labour? We are calling time now on the UK Government to avoid a ‘perfect storm’ for 2021.”

“We want to re-open the debate on the needs of the UK fresh produce sector for both temporary and permanent workers. The UK fresh produce industry needs sufficient temporary and permanent workers to fill essential roles across the supply chain from harvesting to processing, packing and distribution. The Seasonal Workers Scheme must be in place for 2021 and have enough volume to support the UK horticulture industry and be expanded to include the non-edible sector.”

FPC has been asking the UK Government to provide essential information which is missing from the Border Operating Model and the Northern Ireland Protocol. For example, importers need to know which plants for planting are ‘controlled’ or ‘high risk’ and therefore need pre-notification and checks; where consignments will be cleared and whether these facilities will be resourced properly to avoid delays and increased costs.

“We believe that the Border Operating Model for trading between the EU and GB as it stands will be unworkable for many business unless the UK Government listens to us and makes changes now. We are not prepared to wait until the autumn for the outcomes of current discussions,” continued Jenney.

“UK importers of cut flowers and plants from the Netherlands need a realistic timeframe which is less than 24 hours in which to pre-notify imports of cut flowers coming in via roro ports. It’s vital that traders have a simple and efficient process to follow to pre-notify consignments and clear customs, as well as covering plant health requirements. Government systems must be integrated so traders don’t have to make multiple entries across different systems.

“Businesses which have only ever traded with the EU will be coming new to many requirements and will need government support. Not all may use an intermediary to do their customs declarations.

“Our floral sector took a massive hit when non-essential businesses had to shut and the lack of UK Government support is a double whammy,”. “It does not help when recent guidance to care homes suggests that visitors may not bring cut flowers as gifts to loved ones. There is no increased risk of transmitting Covid-19 from any fresh produce, be it plant or cut flower. We believe this advice is not necessary and implies that there is an inherent risk from flowers and plants which bring great comfort to many. We want to see this guidance changed.

“If we have further Covid-19 outbreaks we could face another difficult trading period over the winter months just as we prepare for the end of the transition period with the EU. We know the industry will be operating differently in January 2021, but we need the UK Government to work with us to help businesses prepare. We cannot do this with a unsatisfactory half-baked model,” Jenney concluded.