Trade bodies for the beleaguered food and drink sector in Scotland have joined forces to demand the UK and Scottish governments act to “save Christmas” as businesses faces worker shortages.
The groups have signed an open letter claiming the industry has reached “crisis point” as suppliers and producers struggle to recruit workers, leaving supermarket shelves empty and restaurants unable to offer favourite menu items.
The letter argues that both the UK’s departure from the European Union and the pandemic have “accelerated” pressure on the availability of staff.
The Food and Drink Federation (FDF) Scotland, as well as membership group Scotland Food & Drink and north-east economic development agency, Opportunity North East, have set out demands for action that include a 12 month “covid recovery visa” allowing employers to expand recruitment to EU and other overseas workers.
Things can only get worse
The letter adds that without the measures it calls for, “we strongly believe the current supply chain disruption will only worsen as we enter the peak trading period in the run-up to Christmas”.
The groups cite a survey of 88 Scottish businesses which found 93% of them currently had job vacancies, 90% of them described their job vacancies as hard to fill, and 97% of them felt that they would struggle to fill vacancies in the future.
The letter adds that efforts by employers to tackle the problems with recruitment have failed and that they need “immediate help” for them to work.
James Withers, CEO of Scotland Food & Drink, said: “Government cannot ignore the flashing warning signs here. Businesses are doing everything they can to attract workers, but we desperately need Government intervention now to avert a crisis.
“From farms to manufacturers, and fishing boats to hauliers, we simply do not have the workforce to keep Scotland and the UK’s food supply chain fully functioning. Whether it is supermarkets and restaurants or care homes and hospitals, government must not under-estimate the risk of inaction.
“This problem is not going to magically fix itself and if it continues to worsen, all of us will pay the price in reduced choice and more product shortages.”
Read the letter:
We are writing collectively to highlight the recruitment crisis in the food and drink sector in Scotland.
Both Brexit and the pandemic have accelerated existing pressures on labour availability. We have now reached crisis point putting the growth, viability and security of many Scottish businesses in jeopardy, with knock on impacts for consumers.
We need action now to save Christmas.
We ask and advise that the UK Government and Scottish Government play their own parts to support recruitment in the sector.
FDF Scotland and our industry partners in the Scotland Food & Drink Partnership and beyond have consulted widely with Scottish businesses on the issues.
In our recent survey of 88 Scottish businesses 93% of them currently had job vacancies, 90% of them described their job vacancies as hard to fill, and 97% of them felt that they would struggle to fill vacancies in the future.
The reported jobs that were hard to fill cover all parts of the business and all wage ranges, with particularly difficult areas being in engineering and production operation. The geography affected covers the whole of Scotland.
These grim statistics back up the many reports across the Scottish food and drink industry, which tell of reduced production, reduced growth and ambition and failure to fulfil orders for customers and consumers.
The food and drink industry in Scotland is committed to sustainable growth but to do so we need the right people, skills and commitment. Many of us are members of the Scotland Food & Drink Partnership where we have a long history of supporting careers advice, education and industry partnership as part of our ‘Future in Food programme’.
Recently this partnership published advice to food and drink employers on recruitment and retention. Businesses are looking at all the options they have at their disposal to retain and recruit.
It’s not working, and we are now rapidly approaching a crisis. It is now clear that many people who would traditionally have been attracted to work in the food industry from abroad can no longer do so. Online and delivery companies have also recruited workers during the pandemic and there is no sign of people returning to the industry.
As an industry we are determined to do what we can to tackle this issue and will continue to progress initiatives and support businesses, but it is very clear that we need immediate help in order to do so.
We call on the UK Government to:
- Introduce a 12 month covid recovery visa for the food and drink supply chain – to deal with immediate pressures on the industry and allow employers to expand recruitment to EU and other overseas workers
- Commission an urgent review by the migration advisory committee of the needs of the food and drink sector
- Waive the fees to employment visas for the food and drink supply chain until 2022
We advise the Scottish Government to:
- Ensure support for automation is embedded in Scottish Government funding programmes where it supports productivity and the development of higher quality jobs
- Work with the Scotland Food & Drink Partnership to continue to promote the industry as a great career destination, and to provide opportunities through apprenticeships and other schemes
These are unprecedented and turbulent times and, until stability returns for businesses, we would ask the UK and Scottish Governments to support the industry and implement these measures.
David Thomson, FDF Scotland
James Withers, Scotland Food & Drink
Scott Walker, NFUS
Alasdair Smith, Scottish Bakers
Peter Cook, Opportunity North East
Martin Morgan, Scottish Association of Meat Wholesalers
Jimmy Buchan, Scottish Seafood Alliance
Colin Smith, Scottish Wholesale Association