BREXIT WAS always going to be a gamble – and now problems are emerging. One area of concern is the UK food industry. Always reliant on migrant labour, it now faces a major labour shortage which could see widespread bankruptcies and closures.
The news comes from the UK Food & Drink Federation, which has recently surveyed UK food produces – and found that a third of them had already seen EU nationals among their staff quit the business. Nearly half the companies had EU nationals among their staff who were considering leaving.
The Government has made it clear that it wants EU nationals who are already working here to stay in the UK. However, the general uncertainty about whether EU nationals will be welcome and whether they will have to face convoluted bureaucracy (and maybe large fees) in order to regularise their position post-Brexit seems to be persuading EU nationals to give up now.
Another factor in their decision-making could be the exchange rate of the pound sterling, which is being affected by the ongoing economic uncertainty caused by Brexit and the UK’s poor economic performance. This is reducing the value of what EU nationals are earning when their wages are translated into their home currencies. If their home state economies are doing well, and many are, the economic incentive may well be to return home rather than stay in the UK.
The Director General of the Food & Drink Federation warned that if the EU national workforce shrinks much further the industry would be left “unable to feed the nation”. This is no surprise to the Government. The House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee considered a report in April which warned that the labour shortage in the food industry could reach crisis proportions.
With one third of UK food businesses surveyed by the Food & Drink Federation warning that if they can’t source adequate labour from the EU their businesses would not be viable, that crisis is very close indeed.