Workforce concerns in landmark Brexit survey

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% 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, Ian Wright CBE, director general, Food & Drink Federation said: “The UK food and drink supply chain ensures that consumers have access to the safe, affordable and delicious range of food and drink that they have come to expect. Food is a matter of national security, so the results of this report are of central concern to businesses across the ‘farm to fork’ industries. It is only a matter of time before the uncertainty reported by businesses results in an irreversible exit of EU workers from these shores. This is a scenario that will hurt the UK culturally and economically.

“Without our dedicated and valued workforce we would be unable to feed the nation. This is why it is imperative that we receive assurances from Government about their future, and that of our wider workforce.”


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About The Author

John Swire - Editor of Agronomist and Arable Farmer as well as responsibility for the Agronomist and Arable Farmer and Farm Business websites. After 17 years milking cows on the family farm John started writing about agriculture in 1998 and has since written for a variety of publications and has developed a wide circle of contacts within the industry. When not working John is a season ticket holder at Stoke City and also of late has become a fitness freak, listing cycling, swimming and walking as his exercises of choice.