Business in ‘farm to fork’ supply chain reveal workforce concerns in landmark Brexit survey

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Trade bodies from across the UK’s £110bn food and drink supply chain have today published a landmark survey on their sector, which employs four million people across the UK. The survey casts new light on the ‘farm to fork’ sector’s Brexit priorities from a workforce perspective. It also lays bare the severity of the situation that the UK food and drink supply chain faces without reassurances regarding the future of EU workers. EU nationals number two million across the UK economy, with 20 per cent of these workers employed across the food and drink supply chain.

The findings of the survey reveal:

Almost half (47%) of businesses surveyed said EU nationals were considering leaving the UK due to uncertainty surrounding their future.

Over a third (36%) of businesses surveyed said they would become unviable if they had no access to EU workers.

Almost a third (31%) of businesses surveyed had seen EU nationals leave since the EU referendum.

17% of respondents said they would look to relocate overseas if they had no access to EU nationals.

In light of the findings, the survey includes a number of key recommendations to Government. These include:

Short term

Legislate to secure the rights of EEA nationals currently in the UK.

Review the recording of immigration data.

Recognise the strategic importance of food and drink supply chain.

Medium term

Build an attractive and effective migration system.

Ensure no cliff-edge when the UK leaves the EU.

Increase efficiency through adequate Home Office resourcing.

Long term

Investment in skills provision for the food and drink supply chain.

Support access to hard-to-reach labour market solutions.

Allow benefits system to make flexible working easier.

Government has been clear in its desire to reduce net migration, but our sector faces a rapidly approaching workforce shortage and skills gap which cannot be solved overnight. Industry cannot afford a ‘cliff edge’ which impacts on our ability to grow, produce and serve the food we eat. With this in mind the sector welcomed the announcement from the Prime Minister in June 2017 regarding safeguarding the position of EU citizens living in the UK and UK nationals living in the EU.

An abrupt reduction in the number of workers from the EU able to work in the UK after Brexit would cause significant disruption to the whole food and drink supply chain. It is vital that this change is carefully managed through an orderly transition. Our supply chain is aware of the expectation to reduce reliance on EU workers and is focused on upskilling wherever possible locally within the UK, with a strong emphasis on building skills through apprenticeships and investment in technology to support automation. However, with record high levels of employment in key geographical locations, it is often a question of local labour availability for the roles we are seeking to fill.

Discussing the findings, Andrew Opie, Director of Food & Sustainability, BRC said:

“The UK’s post-Brexit labour market and immigration policies should be framed to support domestic firms, including retailers, access the skills they need. A dual approach is needed to support skills development in the UK alongside an immigration system for EU nationals that meets the needs of the food supply chain. An abrupt reduction in the number of EU workers eligible to work in the UK after Brexit would result in significant disruption for the entire food supply chain, with consequences for the availability and price of UK goods for consumers.

“EU workers are key to getting British food on our shelves; from producing food, through transport to colleagues in store they are vital in providing the service and quality British consumers demand. To deliver a fair Brexit for consumers and tackle uncertainty, EU colleagues currently working in the retail industry and the wider food supply chain need further clarity about their status once the UK leaves the EU.”

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