In a plea to the Scottish and UK governments for “immediate help”, representatives for the Scottish food and drink industry say that recruitment problems caused by Brexit and the pandemic mean the sector is “rapidly approaching a crisis”.
A joint letter from eight organisations calls 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 overseas workers, as well as waiving employment visa fees for the sector until 2022.
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The Scottish Government is also asked to work with the Scotland Food & Drink Partnership to continue to promote the industry and support apprenticeships and other support schemes.
The letter, signed by groups including the Scotland branches of the Food and Drink Federation (FDF), National Farmers’ Union (NFU), Scottish Seafood Alliance and Scottish Wholesale Association, states: “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.”
It adds: “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.
“Without these, we strongly believe the current supply chain disruption will only worsen as we enter the peak trading period in the run-up to Christmas.”
A survey of 88 businesses by Scotland Food & Drink found 93% of them currently had job vacancies, with 90% describing them as “hard to fill”.
Asked about the prospects going forward, 97% felt they would struggle to fill vacancies in the future.
Commenting on the letter, chief executive of FDF Scotland, David Thomson, said: “The latest message from businesses in Scotland’s food and drink sector is clear: this is the worst labour shortage situation in memory and it is going to deteriorate further without quick government action.
“Virtually all the companies contacting us have vacancies which they can’t fill and don’t see the situation improving any time soon.
“We are in the midst of a perfect storm with Brexit and Covid exacerbating long-standing problems in the UK labour market.
“Most concerning is that the peak trading period in the run-up to Christmas is right around the corner and many supply chains are at breaking point.
“A temporary visa to allow companies to bring in overseas staff is the most important and urgent step that needs [to be] taken.”
James Withers, CEO of Scotland Food & Drink, added: “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.”