Foodman Talks

FoodMan Talks: Dunbia's Isla Roebuck on meat sector hurdles

By Rod Addy contact

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Meat & Seafood, Training & recruitment, Supply chain

Having relinquished the British Meat Processors Association (BMPA) presidency after an intense four-years, Dunbia's business public relations director (UK) Isla Roebuck tackles Brexit, the skills shortage and Dunbia's joint venture with Dawn Meats in this FoodMan Talks.

In his speech as outgoing president at the BMPA's annual general meeting last month, Roebuck said the recommendation for butchers to be included in the list of migrant workers to prioritise to plug skills gaps had not led to action yet.

"Labour supply continue to be a concern for us all and it was so disappointing having successfully lobbied for butchers to be included in the Migratory Advisory Committees Shortage Occupation list recommendations, then the findings of the MAC were put on hold indefinitely," he said. "We have continued to lobby on this and are working with other Trade Associations who have similar challenges."

Speaking to Food Manufacture​, Roebuck added: "A number of people that have been working in the UK haven't been able to go home and see their families for almost 18 months. If they go home to see their families, depending on which country they are from, there can be issues trying to get back. In some cases I would suggest they might not come back.

Flow of labour 'not there'

"There may be some people who would like to come from a particular part of Europe into the country. That's not allowed at the moment, so that flow of labour into the country is not there at the moment. That's going to affect the food industry in the UK."

Commenting on the impact on the meat sector, Roebuck added: "It's not quite yet having an effect, but we are at a quiet time of year. As we go into autumn that could become a challenge."

He said the industry was willing to automate as much as possible, but was limited by the current capabilities of machinery, which was especially a challenge in beef processing. For beef, the industry was more reliant on skilled manual labour.

Referring to the BMPA's achievements during his time in office in this videocast, he said one of the biggest was strengthening its voice and influence, particularly within Government and the Food Standards Agency (FSA).

'Louder voice'

"One of my mantras was having a louder voice. I think we have certainly done that in Government, DEFRA​ [the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs], all the different bodies."

He emphasised the improved relationship with the FSA in his AGM speech: "It would be fair to say that relationships between the industry and the FSA in the early days of the​ [COVID-19] crisis were, to say the least, strained.

"However, after a number of high level meetings the FSA communication improved considerably and resulted in many more meetings and a recognition from FSA that they had to work with industry rather than stay aloof and try to maintain business as usual."

Listen to this seven-minute podcast for more of Roebuck's thoughts on Brexit, skills and the positive progress the BMPA has made during his time as president.

Roebuck worked for Dawn Meats for 28 years in operations and primary processing before the joint venture with Dunbia was announced and now is business public relations director for Dunbia (UK).

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