Meat skills shortage deepens and Government not helping

By Gwen Ridler

- Last updated on GMT

Skills shortages in the meat sector have been exacerbated by a lack of Government support, claims the BMPA
Skills shortages in the meat sector have been exacerbated by a lack of Government support, claims the BMPA

Related tags Brexit Meat & Seafood

The UK meat industry faces further skills shortages as the Government makes it harder for unemployed Brits to re-train in the sector, the British Meat Processors Association (BMPA) has warned.

With a lack of British people coming forward to work in meat plants, processors had been forced to rely on EU labour, said chief executive Nick Allen. Between 50–80% of the workforce is made up of EU nationals and plants could soon face a severe staff shortage if more wasn’t done to promote roles to Brits, he claimed.

Allen warned of an exodus of EU staff that would leave a big gap in the productive capacity of Britain’s meat processing industry, which the Government had made more difficult to plug.

Shortage Occupation List

He pointed towards the Government’s announcement in November last year that butchers would not be included on the Shortage Occupation List. That was despite numerous recommendations to do so by the Migration Advisory Committee and the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs select committee.

Then in December, the Department for Education confirmed its exclusion of food and drink – including butchery – courses from its list of Level 3 adult courses eligible for the £95m Lifetime Skills Guarantee.

The BMPA argued these decisions had put up a barrier to retraining newly unemployed British workers as the ‘home-grown butchers and meat processors of the future’.

Funding removed

Allen added: “By removing funding for this kind of lifetime skills retraining, the Government is making it difficult for the people who need to find new jobs and for the companies that desperately need more staff.

“With the demand for and supply of British workers clearly there, adding food and drink qualifications to the Lifetime Skills Guarantee would bring the two together and be a win/win for Government. And this is what we are calling for.”

Brexit leaves bitter taste

The food and drink sector needs more support if it hopes to trade under new Brexit rules, warned dairy processor Bridge Cheese.

Chief executive Michael Harte pointed out businesses that had stockpiled and prepared for the transition were struggling, with cashflow tied up in stock that could not be delivered or was held up at ports.

“We prepared and prepared well in advance of the end of transition, but the fact is that many of our suppliers and customers are seeing the real impact of the last-minute deal and very little support,” ​said Harte.

“While we were pleased the Government managed to strike a deal with the EU over food import/exports, the fact that it was officially announced when most businesses were breaking up for the holidays meant we had no time to digest or raise questions about the new rules and protocols before they became law on 1 January.”   

Without support, millions of pounds worth of produce would be wasted and UK businesses would be left counting the cost, Harte added.

“Cheese products are arriving back at the depot, having been turned back at the border because of widespread confusion over the new rules. It’s not a sustainable way to do business. Couple this with confusing export red tape, with the effects of yet another national lockdown and this could be a really tough year for the country’s food and drink manufacturers.”  

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