A recent report by the accounting firm Grant Thornton concluded that there were almost a million vacancies in the UK. Half of them were in the food and drink sectors, industries which over the past 20-30 years have depended heavily on the EU workforce.
The chronic labor shortage has led to a crisis in supply chains, affecting a growing list of products. So what is the root cause of the problem?
The government maintains that this is the lingering impact of the pandemic. But industry bosses say this is the cause of Brexit with a shortage of UK workers filling in gaps left in the road transport industry, warehousing, hospitality and meat production sectors.
Grant Thornton’s research has shown that since the start of the pandemic, 1.3 million foreign-born workers had left the UK and had not yet returned.
“These shortages are putting enormous pressure on the sector and there is a good chance that they will quickly reach the breaking point,” Grant Thorton said in his report, Establishing the Sector’s Labor Availability Problems. British food and beverage industry.
“These are shortages that span the entire breadth of the supply chain, from initial inputs in agriculture to those serving food and drink ‘at the table’. “
As the crisis spread to oil supplies on Friday, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps dismissed claims that Brexit had caused the problem, insisting that Covid was the ‘main reason’.
The supply of truck drivers was due to the fact that 40,000 tests could not take place during the pandemic, he said.
“The pandemic is the cause, but Brexit limits our options for solutions,” said Shane Brennan, managing director of the Cold Chain Federation, which represents the owners of refrigerated and ambient food warehouses.
In other words, Priti Patel’s decision, backed by many Brexit supporters, to close the door on low-skilled workers in the new immigration laws appears to make the problem worse.
“It’s not EU policy that’s to blame here. This is a national Home Office policy regarding who can and cannot enter the country, ”said a spokesperson for the British Meat Processors Association (BMPA), which commissioned the Grant report. Thornton.
The problem is that meat processing plants, retailers, nursing homes, hospitality and companies like Amazon are all competing for a limited supply of low-skilled workers at entry wages. So even though there were enough truck drivers, the supply chain was strained by labor shortages.
Labor, which has largely avoided commenting on Brexit since January, blames the lack of planning in the face of countless warnings about shortages of EU nationals in the workforce.
Anneliese Dodds, party chair and fictitious former chancellor, told Sky News on Friday that the crisis reflected “big failures in planning this situation.” The Liberal Democrats went further, calling on the government to rethink its immigration policy.
Industry executives say the pandemic has exposed weaknesses in the just-in-time supply chain model. Brennan said the food shortage crisis means supermarkets, and in turn consumers, may have to reset their expectations for good as the model perishes.
“It’s not that we won’t have strawberries all year round, it’s that we won’t have 12 varieties of strawberries and supermarkets. Retailers are going to have to adjust their supply chain and may end up ordering every other day or once a week, ”said Brennan.
The government has rejected all calls to solve the problem by issuing short-term visas to truck drivers and other workers in the EU. He is convinced that Brexit is the solution because it can spur British employers to wean themselves from a culture of low wages and to recruit and train local staff.
But industry bosses say their very survival is at stake. With the pandemic and Brexit already taking its toll, a winter of wage inflation is not the solution.