Trade bodies call for Covid recovery visas to ease 'shortfall of 500,000 workers'

Wed 1 Sept 2021
Posted by: Noelle McElhatton
Trade News

The UK needs around half a million workers to plug gaps in food production, logistics, retail and hospitality sectors, which make up more than half of all current vacancies in the UK.

A survey by the NFU and 11 trade associations has highlighted the shortages as part of a bid to convince the government to introduce a Covid-recovery visa to enable EU citizens to work in the UK for 12 months.

The Grocer has reported that the group sent a Grant Thornton-produced report called ‘Establishing the labour availability issues of the UK Food and Drinks Sector’ to ministers on Friday.

Urgent situation

It claimed there was a 13% vacancy rate across the businesses who took part and that “urgent action” was required “to ensure continuity of the UK’s food production”.

“Failure to act at this crucial time would have serious implications for the sector’s sustainability, UK food security and the country’s future food supply,” the report added.

Latest British Retail Consortium figures show that shop prices rose last month by 0.4%, although they were down 0.8% year on year, reports the Guardian.

Price rises incoming

However, BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson said: “There are some modest indications that rising costs are starting to filter through into product prices.”

She said the run up to Christmas could see prices rise further and less choice for shoppers, and echoed the calls from other trad bodies for action on HGV driver shortages.

Hire British

The government continues to rebuff calls for driver visas to help the situation, with business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng telling industry to look to hire British workers, with two million due to come off furlough by 30 September.

Writing to the BRC and Logistics UK, the FT reports that Kwarteng said EU visas would be a short-term fix, and pointed to measures already taken in areas like training and apprenticeships, and driver licence reform. However, relaxing immigration rules has not been completely ruled out, the FT claims.

Short-term problem

Meanwhile, the Institute of Directors has hit back at the government’s advice to hire British saying it won’t help the short-term problems they face, reports the Guardian.

“Whilst UK business should certainly be investing in the skills and capabilities of the domestic workforce, that is unlikely to be a solution to short-term labour market shortages,” said Roger Barker, the IoD’s director of policy. “The government needs to adopt a more pragmatic approach, including a more flexible visa regime, which alleviates some of the current pressures on business.”

Mike Cherry, national chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses, said skills shortages had soared among his members in recent months, but that it wasn’t an either/or situation.

“We need to attract back international HGV drivers temporarily, while at the same time investing in domestic training – a process which can take many months,” he said.