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Food supply chain hit hard by labour shortage

Mainstream media and social media channels have gone into overdrive with the news that Nandos, McDonalds, Greggs and other food suppliers are unable to met consumer demand for goods as the labour shortage throughout the food chain continues to wreak havoc.

While the big name stores are hitting the headlines, with the Co-Op’s CEO Steve Murrell adding his own warnings of empty shelves, it is all elements of the food chain who are suffering – and that includes the producers.

From the people who harvest the produce to the people working on the production lines, to the delivery drivers transporting the produce to the shops, a combination of Brexit migration rules and Covid isolation has led to a situation where consumers’ choice is increasingly limited.

One sector hard hit is the poultry industry. British Poultry Council Chief Executive, Richard Griffiths said that members had reported a 5-10% drop in weekly chicken production as a result of workforce issues.

‘They are currently producing a reduced range of products for UK customers, and are seriously concerned that the supply of staple chicken products will be impacted,’ Griffiths said.

‘When you don’t have people, you have a problem – and this is something we are seeing across the whole supply chain.’

There have been calls from multiple industry groups for the government to help tackle labour shortages in the short-term by temporarily relaxing immigration rules for lorry drivers from the European Union.

Trade association Logistics UK has urged the Home Office to grant 10,000 temporary visas to EU drivers, pointing to analysis of Office for National Statistics data showing that 14,000 left the UK in the year to  June 2020, while just 600 have returned in the past year.

However, the government is adamant that it will not use immigrants to tackle the problem and has urged employers to train and hire more British workers to make up the shortfall.

‘The British people repeatedly voted to end free movement and take back control of our immigration system and employers should invest in our domestic workforce instead of relying on labour from abroad,’ a Home Office spokesperson said.

The government has announced plans to “streamline” lorry driving tests amid an estimated backlog of around 45,000 tests that were put on hold during the pandemic. It has also relaxed drivers’ hours rule so HGV drivers can make longer journeys where it is safe to do so.