Scotland’s food and drink producers sounded the alarm at Holyrood over fears shoppers will struggle with shortages in the run up to Christmas.
MSPs were told red tape and a lack of staff hit a wide range of sectors, ruining crops, and affecting supplies for restaurants, exporters and supermarkets.
Meanwhile, retailers warned a rise in prices and lack of HGV drivers will hit customers in the pocket.
The stark message comes one week after industry leaders wrote a joint letter pleading for help to address labour shortages and supply problems.
They blamed Boris Johnson’s UK Government for the impact of Brexit and demanded a “Covid recovery visa” to allow people in from the EU.
In the run-up to Christmas the situation could get worse, and customers may see reduced choice and increased prices for their favourite products and presents.
– British Retail Consortium chief Helen Dickinson
Members of the struggling sector took their call to the Scottish Parliament, warning a “perfect storm” is looming.
James Withers, chief executive of Scotland Food and Drink, described how one farmer co-operative has lost massive amounts of food.
‘Very real problems’
“This is during a lull in the supply chain calendar and, as things peak towards Christmas, a shortage on the farms, a shortage in the seafood and red meat processing industries, a shortage of drivers, a shortage in retail, in hospitality, in chefs and front of house, all combines to give some very real problems,” he told MSPs on Holyrood’s rural affairs committee.
“The solutions are elusive but the single most important step that could be taken is if the Home Office provided emergency Covid recovery visas, at least for the next 12 months, so we could extend recruitment and stretch out into the EU.”
Mr Withers also said there has been dismay among UK firms because European businesses have had a “completely free ride bringing products into the country”.
He was repeating warnings by East Coast Growers manager Andrew Faichney, based in Cupar, who said recent losses because of shortages run to more than £1million.
The knock on impact for shops and restaurants has been felt since summer.
Shoppers across the region described gaps in shelves from larger stores in Aberdeen to smaller retailers in rural areas.
Before Tuesday’s parliamentary session, the British Retail Consortium highlighted a slight rise in retail prices in the past month.
Chief executive Helen Dickinson said an HGV driver shortage has created an additional problem with a shortfall of 90,000 drivers.
Ms Dickinson added: “Disruption has been limited so far, but in the run-up to Christmas the situation could get worse, and customers may see reduced choice and increased prices for their favourite products and presents.”
At Holyrood, politicians picked up the row with the SNP slating Brexit while Conservatives accused Nicola Sturgeon’s administration of failing to support producers and agriculture.
Highlands and Islands Tory MSP Jamie Halcro Johnston, who is a partner in a farming business, said Covid has played a part in the problems.
And he blamed the SNP for ferry problems also causing problems in getting goods in and out.
“The growing ferries crisis has impacted on rural and island communities across the length of the west coast,” he said.
Mairi Gougeon, the rural affairs secretary, blamed a “reckless” Brexit on the challenges facing food supply.
“The Tories could not have designed a worse Brexit deal – and all we warned of is now coming to pass.
“We know worse is still to come.”