Written evidence submitted by The Association of Independent Meat Suppliers (LS0015)
Within the meat and poultry processing sector is it a lack of SOC 5431 Butchers and Meat Processors. This is causing processing businesses to have to reduce throughput by around 20%. This, added to the higher wages they are paying, is making their businesses uneconomic.
It is of note that the Government allow for SOC 5433 Fish Processors and Poultry Processors but have told us that Meat Processors don’t meet the required RQF3 threshold on the Skilled Worker Visa. Despite our requests for clarification, we have received none.
It is not just Brexit but a combination of Brexit, Covid and Government failure to see food processing (the UK’s largest Manufacturing sector) as being a good career.
Brexit – This has seen many skilled butchers return to their home countries. In many cases they could return to the UK on the points-based immigration system. However, as this currently stands, they can achieve 60 of the 70 points required but struggle with the 10 points for English Language. We find it strange that a butcher needs to have the same level of English Language as a Chemical Engineer!
Coronavirus of course saw many workers in food processing furloughed. This was as a result of the closure of the hospitality sector. Naturally, many returned to their home countries where an 80% of salary payment was more than sufficient for them to live. However, as stated above, they are now struggling to come back to work here. Of course, some don’t wish to come to the UK as they can find jobs within the EU, paid in €s and can move around freely.
But of course, it is the UK’s domestic labour market that we need to attract into the workforce. The great thing about the food industry is that there are jobs for everyone whatever their skill set or qualifications. However, the Government’s levelling up agenda seems to have bi-passed food processing. There isn’t a T-Level in Food Manufacturing and Processing. There is a T-Level in Engineers, Manufacturing, Processing and Control and this does include an optional module for food processing, but it also includes an option for other manufacturing such as Boat Building.
At present students can be taught Food Technology to GCSE and then there is a sort of educational void (other than an apprenticeship and a few Btecs) before any food industry make a reappearance this time at degree level. Surely, if the Government see the courses as being offered as T-Levels as being those where good careers lie then they should be at the very least, offering one in the UK largest manufacturing sector.
As regards the Lifetime Skills Guarantee, the initial tranche failed to have a single Level 3 food industry course included. This was amended in July 2021 with the addition of two food technology courses. However, to date, the Level 3 Food Manufacturing Skills, Food Industry Skills, Butchery etc are not offered.
Surely this failure by omission is further evidence that the Government wishes to support the economy through training but just not the bits of the economy for which they have little or no time.
The National Food Strategy published earlier this year identified that with an ageing workforce it is likely that by 2024, less than 18 months away, there will be 140,000 vacancies in the food manufacturing industry.
If we do not address this and given that we have a growing population, we will become more and more reliant on imports and the variables that global demand side economics and currency fluctuations might have on the price of food.
The global shortage of HGV drivers is of course having an impact. Again, the Home Office do not see this job as being skilled and yet in terms of livestock movements HGV drivers have had to have additional training in animal welfare.
This change in the timetable has given importers more time to bring food and livestock into the UK without the need for the same checks that exporters are facing. The importers will ultimately have to complete the same paperwork and checks that UK exporters are currently having to undertake. It may well be that the UK could become a less than attractive market for food and live animal imports and they may well look to supply other markets that are free from the costly administration and additional staffing costs that will come with their products.
As a country which isn’t self-sufficient in food production we rely on imports and the rules for imports from the EU, whenever they are implemented, will present European businesses with a barrier to entry and may send their products elsewhere in the world.
The HGV Divers and Seasonal Poultry Workers scheme have arrived a little late. We along with the BPC and NFU first raised this issue of seasonal poultry workers with Defra 29th April 2021. We continued to make this point and it took them all the way to the end of September to make the change.
For a government which believes in a free market it is strange that they are restricting the market to 4 labour providers!
Yes – Relax the English Language requirement from the need to be able to read, write, speak, and listen to simply being able to speak and listen. Allow workers in on 12-month visas and 60 points with the requirement that if they are not able to get the required English Language Skills at the end of the 12 months their contracts won’t be renewed.
Add a T-Level in Food Manufacturing and Processing – See above
Add Food Industry L3 courses to the Lifetime Skills Guarantee.
Establish an industry taskforce to help students make the food industry a career of choice in the same way as they have similar taskforces in Hospitality and Agriculture.