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Opinion - Like butchers, UK government pragmatism is in short supply

09 October 2021

The British Meat Processors Association (BMPA) writes that the UK's supply chain woes and labor crisis cannot be addressed with existing government strategy.

The current supply chain issues are systemic and long term, but the UK has an immediate and worsening short-term labor crisis right now.

Since Brexit and following the pandemic the problem has become much worse. Industries are now competing with each other for a dwindling pool of workers and the current labor crisis has seen workers in strategically important sectors like food manufacture and social care being enticed away by other sectors that can afford to hike wages 20 or 30%. To restore some balance in the labor market every employer (including the public sector) may have to follow suit, but it will mean consumer price inflation.

The problem requires both short and long-term solutions in order to allow industry to adjust to the realities of the post-Brexit labor market, which were only made clear once the Brexit deal was finally signed at the end of January 2020. Such solutions were presented to the Government in October 2020 by the Migration Advisory Committee, however the Home Secretary, Priti Patel rejected all the recommendations.

Contrary to recent claims, the UK agri-food sector is not asking for a return to free movement, nor are they asking Government to fix the problem for us. Instead, the sector is calling for a short-term pragmatic use of the UK’s new-found immigration controls to plug workforce gaps immediately, while we work on the longer-term solution.

Industry is already working hard on the longer-term solution with a combination of recruitment and investment in technology. As an example, one company alone has been investing around £100 million per year for the last five years on new technology and equipment, and this is being replicated across the industry.

Regardless of how high wages rise and how many people join the industry now, a new recruit takes eighteen months to become a fully trained butcher. And the UK needs approximately 12,000 experienced butchers right now in October 2021.

Government knows that the only practical way to plug the current staffing gap is to bring in experienced migrant workers while UK workers are being recruited and trained-up. This is not free movement. It is an Australia-style controlled immigration policy to fix a short-term labor problem.



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