By Aimee Mahony, chief poultry advisor, NFU
White spaces on supermarket shelves would have been unthinkable before 2020 and totally unacceptable to consumers blessed with a normally enormous choice of products. Yet, primarily as a result of the ongoing labour shortages hitting the food supply chain, these gaps on shelves are happening more frequently. Regardless of other issues such as energy, CO2 and even fuel disruption, labour availability dominates nearly all conversations with businesses looking to recover and/or fill those white spaces or plug gaps in product flow to restaurants, the public sector and independent retail.
Faced with chronic shortages across all sectors, the NFU convened a cross-industry roundtable to provide an authoritative assessment of the labour availability issues and unify our asks of Government for focused action. Working with Grant Thornton, we teamed up with a whole-chain taskforce to pool evidence and formulated a whole-chain ask centred upon a temporary Covid-Recovery Visa scheme to allow the sector to recruit labour from the EU and beyond for a limited period of time. Alongside this, the industry continues to increase its investment in domestic worker recruitment and retention.
The Grant Thornton report was submitted to Government in August, and we are yet to receive a formal reply, but we were pleased to welcome the recent decision for an extension to visa schemes to include 5,000 HGV drivers and 5,500 seasonal poultry workers for three months. This is a considerable announcement from Government, but we have a lot of work to do to make it successful.
We know Government are still working up plans on the practical delivery of the scheme and we recognise the need to get detailed information out to businesses imminently. The timing could not be more critical for seasonal poultry production. The enabling legislation is planned to come in to force in mid-October and the labour providers currently supporting the horticulture scheme will be a necessary part of the process. Therefore, we are working both with Government and labour providers as a matter of urgency to ensure the scheme is as accessible, practical, and cost-effective as possible. Look out for more information on this from the NFU in the coming days and weeks.