1. Have the measures announced by the Government to mitigate the disruptions to the food supply chain caused by the pandemic been proportionate, effective and timely?
1.1 The UK has a highly resilient food supply chain which, faced with unprecedented challenges and demands, has worked hard to ensure people have the food and essential supplies that they need. Defra has stepped up its regular engagement with the sector, including primary producers, processors, wholesalers and the retail sector, to ensure that Government is taking the necessary steps to make sure that the safe and effective supply of food continues.
1.2 Defra has worked closely and swiftly with the industry, other government departments, devolved administrations and organisations to identify and mitigate the impacts of Covid-19 issues and risks. Our response has included making a number of temporary regulatory changes and providing detailed guidance and clarification for industry to ensure businesses can maintain critical food supply. These measures are summarised below.
2. Temporary regulatory changes and relaxations
2.1 Defra worked at pace with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) to relax certain elements of domestic competition law to enable retailers to collaborate effectively in the national interest. These relaxations allow retailers to share data, cooperate to keep shops open, pool staff, redistribute food destined for hospitality market, and share distribution depots and delivery vans. For example, the relaxations also allow logistics service providers to share information on staff availability as well as storage and warehouse availability. The legislation to bring in this change was laid on 27 March and has a retrospective effect from 1 March.
2.2 Further relaxations were made in legislation laid on 1 May to allow the dairy industry to better collaborate to minimise the volume of surplus milk which goes to waste. This legislation was applied retrospectively from 1 April. The intention is that the industry will work together to address current market challenges, avoiding waste and maintaining productive capacity to meet future demand. This is addressed in more detail later in part 11.7.
Relaxation of Delivery Times and Driver Hours
2.3 The Department for Transport (DfT) has agreed to extend the current general relaxation of driver hours until 31 May for all categories of goods vehicles. DfT currently reviewing a further extension.
2.4 Defra, in coordination with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) has provided guidance to local authorities to allow for extended delivery hours. These temporary measures are designed to support retailers to ensure shelves can be replenished more quickly to respond to increased demand and will be kept under review.
Single-Use Carrier Bag Charge
2.5 Defra agreed to temporarily relax the single-use carrier bag charge for online deliveries. This change ensures that contact between delivery drivers and customers is kept to a minimum, and speeds up delivery. This came into force on 21 March 2020 in England, 31 March in Northern Ireland, 2 April in Scotland and 9 April in Wales. The charge remains in-place for in-store purchases.
Relaxation of some labelling requirements
2.6 Defra has worked with the Food Standards Agency (FSA) to agree that in exceptional circumstances, where there is a very real risk of food being wasted or an unnecessary break in the supply of food to shops and homes, local authorities can give food businesses temporary flexibility on certain information on food labels. This does not extend to the requirement for labelling for allergens, traceability or any rules which ensure that food safety is maintained. Local authorities will consider other information, such as that concerning origin or nutrition, on a case by case basis.
2.7 Our overriding concern is to make sure consumers are not misled and to protect their safety. Therefore all ingredients in the food must be listed, allergens highlighted, the source of the food clear and use-by dates complied with. This guidance was agreed on 9 April and will be reviewed by Defra and the FSA on 29 May.
3. Guidance and clarification issued to industry
Identification of food supply workers as key workers
3.1 Defra ensured that the definition of key workers clearly included those involved in food production, processing, distribution, sale and delivery as well as those essential to the provision of other key goods (for example hygienic supplies and veterinary medicines). This has allowed the industry to continue to operate to maintain the supply of food for the nation.
3.2 Estimates based on engagement with Defra stakeholders suggest absenteeism within the retail and manufacturing sectors has stabilised at around 11%, whilst the rate for wholesalers is 10%. Meanwhile, absence rates within the haulage sector are now consistent with normal rates for the time of year.
Guidance on Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
3.3 As set out in the Government’s Covid-19: Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) Plan published on the 10 April, everyone must get the PPE that they need. An important part of this is guidance: being clear about who needs PPE, what type and in what circumstances.
3.4 On 11 May, the Government published its Working Safely during Coronavirus guidance, including specific guidance for factories. There are a number of roles in the agri-food chain which require using PPE – this includes work on a farm or factory which involves exposure to dust and many cleaning and maintenance roles. The guidance is clear that employees who normally wear PPE should continue to do so. Public Health England recommends the use of additional PPE in response to Covid-19 in clinical settings and a small number of other roles. In almost all other circumstances, including those relevant to food supply, the Covid-19 threat should be managed through social distancing, hygiene and fixed teams or partnering.
3.5 There is unprecedented demand across the world for PPE. The cross-Government PPE sourcing unit is securing new supply lines from across the world and we have asked domestic industries to support the effort to ensure PPE is reaching where it is most needed.
Guidance on Covid-19 Testing for those working in the food industry
3.6 A key part of the Government’s five pillar strategy for coronavirus testing is the roll out of throat and swab tests to check whether individuals currently have coronavirus. On 17 April, the Government announced that symptomatic essential workers (including critical personnel in the production of food and drink) and the symptomatic members of their households would be able to access testing. On 18 May, eligibility for testing was expanded to cover all those in the UK who have any of the symptoms of coronavirus. Symptomatic essential workers in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland, as well as those in their household also displaying symptoms, can still apply for priority testing.
4. Financial interventions for the food supply chain:
4.1 The Chancellor of the Exchequer has set out a package of temporary, timely and targeted measures to support public services, people and businesses through this period of disruption caused by Covid-19. Defra is working closely with the banking sector to ensure they understand the needs and eligibility of food and farming stakeholders. The measures available to businesses in the food supply chain depend on their size and sector, and include:
4.2 From 4 May, the Bounce Back Loan Scheme will be available to small businesses, who will be able to borrow between £2,000 and £50,000 with a 100% government-backed guarantee for lenders. Defra works with Other Government Departments (OGDs) to ensure that new and updated offers, such as this, for business support from HMT and others are shared with businesses through our strong stakeholder relationships.
4.3 Defra are working with the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) to launch a new marketing campaign to increase consumption of milk in UK households. The campaign is funded jointly by AHDB, Defra, the Scottish Government, Welsh Government, Northern Ireland Executive and Dairy UK.
5. Takeaways and food delivery companies
5.1 The Committee asks what the Government is doing to support and encourage those businesses who provide takeaways or deliveries to reopen safely and quickly.
5.2 Defra, alongside BEIS and the Devolved Administrations, has had a number of discussions with “food-to-go” (which include takeaways) and delivery companies to support their reopening and continued operations, recognising the key role the sector plays in feeding key workers and vulnerable people. As the Secretary of State for Defra stated at the Government press conference on Friday 8 May, it is possible for businesses to reopen safely, in a cautious way, and we welcome the reopening of businesses, predominately for drive through, in line with social distancing measures.
5.3 Defra and BEIS continue to meet with food-to-go companies to understand how quickly their services and supply chains can return to functionality, and what support they require from Government to enable this. Defra has also established a Food Delivery Forum to understand the support these companies have been offering to vulnerable people and key workers, and ensure companies have the information they need to continue operating effectively to support the government’s Covid-19 response, in accordance with the government’s latest guidance.
5.4 Through these forums, and broader BEIS engagement with the hospitality sector, Defra is continuing to share the latest Government advice and understand its implications of any changes on the sector. These also offer the opportunity to exchange ideas on how the sector can further support HMG’s Covid-19 response; to monitor the effectiveness of HMG’s support measures; and understand what further government support may be needed to ensure business are able to continue operating.
5.5 Defra has had positive feedback that the interventions we have brought in have been helpful and we are monitoring their efficacy. We are working with BEIS and industry to monitor uptake of these measures. Throughout the crisis Defra has sought to bring timely and pragmatic interventions at the point when they are most needed.
6. Changes to Defra structure, staffing and funding in response to Covid-19
6.1 The Committee has asked for details about changes to structure and priorities within Defra as a result of Covid-19.
Structure and staffing
6.2 Defra has set up temporary structures to manage the Covid-19 response, as it would for any emergency. This includes an Emergency Operations Centre and set of policy and sector cells to co-ordinate work on specific issues. These cells are supported by dedicated resource on cross cutting policy issues. In total this direct effort involves around 440 staff.
6.3 Besides this dedicated resource, Defra has around 500 core staff who have not moved jobs but who currently spend more than 20% of their time working on the Covid-19 response.
6.4 Defra is also loaning staff to other government departments more challenged than itself and expects to loan around 100 staff during the Covid-19 response period. This gives a total of around 1,000 core Defra staff working on the response to Covid-19.
6.5 In order to free people up to support the Covid-19 effort, with Ministers’ agreement Defra has paused or slowed some other work. This includes preparation for COP26 and the Convention on Biodiversity which have both been postponed; pausing work on the Spending Review; and delaying public appointments not essential to Covid-19 where it makes sense to do so. Defra will continue to look at what other tasks may need to be delayed in order to deliver the Department’s higher priority work.
6.6 In some cases, work may have to proceed more slowly because legislation is paused, or because our sectors and stakeholders will be limited in the extent to which they can engage. However, where we can continue to make progress on other priorities we will. Defra’s agenda will still be vitally important as this crisis starts to recede, and the Department will need to be ready to recover delivering against our strategic objectives.
6.7 No additional costs have been recorded for Defra staff that have been redeployed to support the Defra Emergency Operations Centre and policy cells. Additional funding will be included in the Main Estimate (£210m) to cover the majority of the costs anticipated in running contracts to provide food packages to vulnerable people. Any additional costs above this (forecast total £267m) will be considered in the round at Supplementary Estimates.
6.8 Defra will seek to manage the costs of other support schemes in the usual way.
7. Are the Government and food industry doing enough to support people to access sufficient healthy food; and are any groups not having their needs met? If not, what further steps should the Government and food industry take?
7.1 The food industry has been working hard to keep food - including fresh produce -flowing into stores and people’s houses. The Government has well-established ways of working with the food industry during disruption to supply situations. We have regular engagement with industry who are continuing to monitor the situation closely, taking the necessary steps to address issues where they arise. Following a significant spike in consumer demand, we have now seen stock levels in supermarkets improve. To support the food sector, the Government temporarily suspended elements of domestic competition law for specific agreements and regulations relating to driver hours and delivery times so that the sector could work together to keep putting food on the shelves. Thanks to rapidly increasing testing capacity, the government has expanded eligibility to all essential workers with symptoms of coronavirus, including those working in the food and drink industry.
7.2 Defra has rapidly identified three groups of people who may struggle to get sufficient, healthy food due to Covid-19: people who have sufficient money but are struggling to access food – they are self-isolating; people who are struggling to afford food due to Covid19; and people who are both struggling to afford and access food.
7.3 We have done due diligence to ensure our groups are robust; match information given to us from a wide range of stakeholders; and have built up three programmes of work to begin to address the most urgent problems.
7.4 The first, the Shielding Programme, as of 6 May, 1,252,265 food parcels have been delivered of left on the doorstep to clinically extremely vulnerable (CEV) people who are so medically at risk that they should not leave the house at all. We initially focused on this programme as it was the most urgent. We have shared the details of individuals who register to receive food parcels with supermarkets so that they can be prioritised for delivery slots. More information on the shielding programme is below.
7.5 The second, helping people who are not shielded but are struggling to access food, connecting those in need with local volunteers to deliver food from shops, will allow local authorities to refer food vulnerable people for prioritised supermarket delivery slots, and to signpost people to commercially available food box delivery options.
7.6 The third programme, designed to address those having difficulty affording food, will support frontline food charities so that those who fall through the cracks of the broader welfare system do not go hungry. We are working closely with colleagues in DfE, DWP, and MHCLG to ensure that the broader welfare system responds to overall food affordability challenges at scale.
7.7 We are working with other government departments and communications experts to ensure that online systems meet high accessibility standards, and will ensure that communication materials are produced in multiple formats for the widest reach. We are also working with local partners to proactively reach out to groups who might struggle to access food and essential supplies, and will invite feedback from different groups on communications and ensure that everyone in our target group is having their needs met.
7.8 Our three pronged approach is designed to catch those with the most urgent needs first. We have built up analytical and data capturing capacity to monitor how needs will change over time, and to ensure that our approach accounts for new needs that may arise as the pandemic is addressed.
7.9 Our further steps at this stage are to roll out our support for non-shielded vulnerable people who have either access or affordability issues.
8. Support for Non-shielded Vulnerable
8.1 The Committee have asked Defra to supplement the published numbers of those people who have been advised by the NHS to ‘shield’ with its estimate of how many people in England are at risk of experiencing difficulties in accessing healthy food due to other factors and what steps is the government taking, with partners, to ensure these people have access to healthy food.
8.2 Defra defines the Non-shielded Vulnerable (NSV) as those who are unable to access food and other essential supplies due to a Covid-19 related change in physical and / or financial circumstance.
8.3 Defra is grateful for the Committee’s interest in our work to support those experiencing difficulties in accessing food. Unfortunately, we are not currently able to supplement any published figures with our internal estimates. This is a fast moving policy area and Defra have had to rapidly develop initial estimates, which are for internal discussion only, to progress our work in supporting vulnerable groups access food. We are aware of the Food Foundation’s public figures, which are an upper bound on the level of need. Our estimates are being updated and we’ll release them once we have gone through the normal process of quality assurance that all government statistics undergo. As this process is not complete, we do not want to provide data which, due to wide margins of error, does not help the Committee in its inquiry.
8.4 Supermarkets have been working at pace to expand the total number of delivery and click and collect slots and we are working with major retailers to ensure that they prioritise delivery slots for those who are most vulnerable and at risk including food vulnerable people who do not fall into the shielded definition. This includes all people who are unable to access food and other essential supplies due to a Covid-19 related change in physical and / or financial circumstance.
8.5 Most supermarkets are offering prioritised delivery or click and collect slots to those they have identified as vulnerable from their customer database (for example by age, shopping habits, previous use of vulnerable customer helplines etc.). We are working closely with retailers and local authorities to allow local authorities to refer vulnerable people to supermarkets for a limited number of priority delivery slots. These would be in addition to those already identified for any expansion of the shielded group.
8.6 We are also working with a range of food wholesalers, other food suppliers and local authorities to make available an increased range of food packages that can be ordered online or over the phone.
8.7 We are working closely with local authorities, retailers, food businesses and charities to enable this vulnerable group to access food through a variety of ways including: volunteers shopping for them, food deliveries from local retailers, wholesalers and food businesses, many of whom will take orders over the phone, as well increasing access to supermarkets for a priority delivery or click and collect slots.
8.8 The NHS Volunteer Responders programme can be used by people who need to access food and essential supplies. In addition, various sight loss charities are working directly with some of the major supermarkets to take forward some practical initiatives to help people with sight loss to access supermarkets.
8.9 We have been working closely with retailers to encourage and support them in developing safe ways for vulnerable people to pay for food and essential items where there are others shopping on their behalf. Retailers across the food-supply chain have come together to offer a suite of payment options for volunteers to use when they are shopping for vulnerable individuals. These include pre-paid supermarket physical vouchers, gift cards and e-voucher/e-gift cards.
9. Redistribution of surplus food
9.1 We are engaging with food redistribution organisations and charities to help inform policy thinking and decision making both during and subsequent to the Covid-19 response. We are also working closely with the food industry, voluntary sector and across government to ensure that the clinically vulnerable receive the support that they require.
9.2 On Friday we announced a £16 million funding pot that will help front-line services distribute food to vulnerable people. Both purchased and surplus food will be used. £1.8 million of this funding will go towards the Waste Resource Action Programme’s (WRAP) COVID-19 Emergency Surplus Food Grant. This Defra-funded grant programme was launched on April 2nd to enable not-for-profit redistribution organisations to overcome barriers to the distribution of surplus food that would otherwise be wasted in the wake of COVID-19. This additional funding will top up the £3.25 million already announced for this grant programme.
9.3 We are working closely with MHCLG and the Local Government Association to provide a coordinating and supporting function alongside other government departments to support local authorities and third sector action on the ground, including on how volunteers from a variety of third sector organisations can be linked with vulnerable people to help ensure access to food.
10. Background on Shielding
10.1 There are around 2.2 million clinically extremely vulnerable individuals – those who have serious underlying health conditions which put them at very high risk of severe illness if they contract coronavirus. Since 22 March 2020, NHS England or GPs have been notifying these individuals that they should rigorously follow shielding measures, including remaining at home and avoiding all gatherings. The Government has published advice for individuals who are shielding on GOV.UK
10.2 Following the advice to shield, the Government rapidly supplied over 150 bulk deliveries of food to Local Authorities. This one-off emergency drop of food was offered to all Local Authorities in England, and ensured councils had the resources to support shielding individuals at the local level while the ‘direct to doorstep’ system was developed and rolled out.
10.3 A key element of the Shielding Programme established by the Government in March 2020 is assisting individuals without any other means of getting to access essential food supplies. Individuals access this support by registering on GOV.UK, through an automated helpline or are called directly. MHCLG has asked everyone who has received a letter to register, and where an individual indicates they do not have access to support networks, they will be offered a food delivery. The majority of registered individuals have said that they have access to support networks and do not need food deliveries.
10.4 Defra has contracted established wholesalers Bidfoods and Brakes to deliver weekly parcels of essential items directly to individuals’ doorsteps. Parcels contain essential food and non-food items such as bread, fresh fruit and vegetables, toilet paper and soap. The contents have been reviewed by nutritionists to ensure they provide adequate nutrition for one person for one week.
10.5 Working with councils and other partners, MHCLG continues to make strong progress in ensuring shielding individuals have access to food supplies. Initial contact was made through letters, text messages and phone calls. MHCLG has established an outbound call centre to proactively contact individuals who have not yet responded to the initial contact, and they have made up to 200,000 calls a day.
10.6 Food deliveries are being made within seven days of an individual’s details being passed to the wholesalers, and weekly thereafter. As of May 9, 1,396,221 food parcels have been delivered. Defra has also shared data with supermarkets on those who are clinically extremely vulnerable and who have also requested support with essential supplies; supermarkets are prioritising these individuals for delivery slots.
10.7 Government is working closely with Local Authorities, and have shared data with them detailing the clinically extremely vulnerable individuals in their area; where and when deliveries are being made; and which individuals have indicated they have other unmet basic needs. The Ministry for Housing Communities and Local Government has provided guidance and FAQs to help Local Authorities supporting clinically extremely vulnerable people.
10.8 Defra and MHCLG continue to review how well the scheme is meeting the needs of clinically extremely vulnerable people who are unable to access essential supplies through any other means, and will consider how it may need to change over time.
11. What further impacts could the current pandemic have on the food supply chain, or individual elements of it, in the short to medium-term and what steps do industry, consumers and the Government need to take to mitigate them?
11.1 In particular the committee has asked Defra what actions it is taking to support UK producers in the current unprecedented situation. Please see below responses regarding those sectors that Defra and the Committee have identified as being of particular interest.
11.2 The processing industry experienced the most immediate shock in the meat supply chain due to the loss of the food service sector in the UK and abroad. However, since mid-March, there has been a significant increase in domestic retail demand for beef cuts with both an increased volume of sales and higher consumer spend, which appears to have offset to some extent the collapse in out-of-home consumption overall. However, the value of the meat consumed in home may not directly replace that which would ordinarily be generated when directed to the food service sector. It is understood that storage facilities are close to full but still within manageable tolerances.
11.3 As such, Defra convened a group of representatives from across the beef supply chain including producers, processors, exporters and retailers on 21 April to address the issues faced as a result of the pandemic. It was acknowledged that the carcase imbalance issue for beef was pre-existing and had been amplified as the result of the pandemic as arguably mince prices are too low and steak prices too high. However, demand for beef, particularly high value products, has been increasing recent weeks. The industry has also responded to the challenges presented, with the launch of both AHDB and retailer led beef promotions. Defra has longer term plans to consult on ways to introduce further transparency into the supply chain.
11.4 At the beginning of 2020 the lamb export market remained stable, with the live weight lamb price continuing to trend above the 5 year average. The shutdown of the UK and European food sectors along with tighter restrictions to UK exports introduced by France to combat the spread of Covid-19, has led to several large lamb exporting abattoirs turning lambs away. This resulted in the live weight lamb price dropping sharply and many going unsold at markets. Since this sudden drop, the lamb market has shown some signs of stability and recovery; reported to be as a result of Easter, the start of Ramadan and the gradual reduction in lockdown restrictions in some EU countries leading to an increase in demand for the UK export market. Demand over the coming weeks is likely to be dictated by the rate of lockdown restriction easements and Defra will need to monitor this situation carefully as new season lamb enters the market.
11.5 The introduction of Covid-19 social distancing measures resulted in a near total shutdown of demand for milk going into the food service/hospitality sector. There are no official figures for milk that is sold into food service but industry estimates are between 8-15 million litres of milk per week. This is around 3-5% of UK weekly milk production. Whilst the volumes are small they have had a disproportionate impact on some milk buyers, whose main customers were food service companies.
11.6 In recognition of the unprecedented challenges facing the sector, On 6 May, Defra announced a new fund to help support those dairy farmers who have seen decreased demand due to the loss of the food service sector. The new fund will provide support for those most in need. Eligible dairy farmers will be entitled to up to £10,000 each, to cover 70% of their lost income during April and May to ensure they can continue to operate and sustain production capacity without impacts on animal welfare. This funding followed the launch on 5 May of a joint government and Devolved Administrations backed £1million campaign aiming to boost milk consumption and help producers use their surplus stock. This 12-week campaign is being led by Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) and Dairy UK.
11.7 On 17 April, Defra announced a temporary suspension of elements of domestic competition law for specific agreements in the dairy industry, with the intention that the industry will work together to address current market challenges, avoiding waste and maintaining productive capacity to meet future demand. This legislation was laid on 1 May and the suspension applies retrospectively from 1 April. This could include sharing labour and facilities, cooperating to temporarily reduce production or identifying where there is hidden capacity in the supply chain for processing milk into other dairy products such as cheese and butter. Dairy UK and the AHDB are leading on the work to bring the industry together to identify spare processing capacity, to stimulate demand and to reduce production levels. Defra and BEIS are working together to monitor the effectiveness of this measure.
11.8 There are also a number of EU funded market management measures which UK dairy processors are able to access. These include the Public Intervention Scheme for Skimmed Milk Powder (SMP) and butter. This is open annually from 1 March to 31 October. In addition, on 4 May 2020 the European Commission announced the opening of Private Storage Aid for SMP, butter and cheese and for beef, lamb and goat meat. UK Processors will be eligible to access these schemes during the transition period under the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement.
11.9 The Government fully appreciates the supply chain pressures which Covid-19 has caused for the dairy sector and is grateful for the hard work farmers are doing to maintain supplies. Dairy products are a staple part of many households’ diet. We are working alongside the dairy supply chain and continue to closely monitor the impact of Covid-19 on the sector.
Pigs, eggs and poultry
11.10 Retail demand for shell eggs has increased significantly during Covid-19. It is expected to remain high in the short term at least, with egg supply chains re-routed to retail as much as possible. However, the demand for eggs from the processing sector has reduced considerably.
11.11 Demand for pork also remains steady and there are fewer issues with carcass balance than in the beef sector, although there is a gentle build-up of surplus pork shoulders and bellies. In addition, there is a high dependency on the export market to China returning to pre-Covid-19 levels for cuts that are less desirable domestically. Due to restrictions in China, containers used for transporting these products were delayed or in the wrong place, causing a build-up of cuts destined for that market in UK cold stores. This is starting to return to normal.
11.12 For the poultry-meat sector, the collapse of the wholesale and food service industry has led to a surplus of chicken. Some of this is being re-directed to retail, some will still go to wholesale, and some will go into cold store. Putting poultry-meat into cold store is less desirable for producers as frozen meat loses value compared to fresh meat. Some producers have placed fewer chicks on the market in order to mitigate the impact of reduced demand caused by the collapse of the wholesale and food service sectors.
11.13 To support the fishing sector in England during these unprecedented times, Defra have launched a £10 million package of support. This includes the Fisheries Response Fund to assist fishing and aquaculture businesses remain solvent by providing cash grants to help them meet their fixed-costs. In addition, the remaining £1 million will deliver the Domestic Seafood Support Scheme to support projects designed to help seafood businesses in England increase the supply of local seafood to domestic markets.
11.14 Since the onset of Covid-19, Defra have worked with the fishing and seafood industry on other potential measures that could ease the pressure, ranging from general policy, to regulatory and financial interventions. We have logged all proposals and are assessing which may be taken forward, based on prioritising those measures most likely to provide the biggest positive impact on both the fishing industry and the marine environment.
11.15 It should be noted that fisheries is a devolved matter. It is therefore up to Devolved Administrations (DAs) to decide on and implement measures in their own region. All the DAs have now announced financial support packages, tailored to address the particular nature of the seafood industry in each authority.
11.16 The Committee has asked for an update regarding work by government to support the ornamental horticulture sector:
11.17 Defra is aware of the challenging position facing the ornamental horticulture sector during this period as lockdown has closed off the great majority of their usual routes to market. Like other eligible businesses, horticulture businesses are able to take advantage of the financial support offered by HMT to support the economy during this unprecedented time. This includes the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILs), Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (‘Furlough Scheme’) and Business Bounce Back Loan scheme. In addition, Defra officials are continuing to work closely with the representatives from the horticulture supply chain, to understand what short-term and long-term support the sector, as a whole, needs. In addition, Defra is working closely with the Horticultural Trades Association to analyse how effectively the Government’s package is meeting its members’ needs
11.18 Defra are acutely aware of the challenging position facing the ornamental horticulture sector during this period. We are continuing to work closely with the representatives from the horticulture supply chain, to understand what short-term and long-term support the sector, as a whole, needs.
12. Labour Shortages
12.1 Due to Covid-19 travel restrictions Defra considers that it is likely there will be a shortfall in seasonal agricultural workers coming to the UK. Our recent evidence suggests that seasonal labour needs are currently being met and the expectation is that this position will continue well into May. However, we need to mobilise the British workforce to fill the gap and make sure our excellent fruit and vegetables are on people’s plates over the summer months. We are already in contact with growers and labour providers to understand how they are managing the introduction of greater numbers of domestic workers into their seasonal workforces, which in past years have been almost entirely comprised of EU migrant workers. Please see the latest intelligence dashboard submitted alongside this evidence.
12.2 It is anticipated that the situation will change as we go through the season and Defra is working with industry on a range of interventions to ensure that workers are available to bring in the harvest.
12.3 The ‘Pick for Britain’ website launched to industry on 17 April is a joint Defra and industry initiative to bring together those who are looking for work on UK fruit and vegetable farms over the summer and autumn harvest period with the recruiters who have roles to fill. The website will act as a central hub to signpost people to the jobs available and to provide information about this type of work. The site has had 289k views since launch and we are seeing increased interest within the domestic workforce, with one grower reporting over 1700 applications from domestic workers. While some farmers are looking for recruits now, there is likely to be higher demand for workers from the end of May with more vacancies being added over time.
12.4 To help address barriers to domestic workers taking up seasonal employment, furloughed workers will be able to undertake seasonal labour as well as claiming 80% of government support (if consistent with their contracted job). We have also worked with industry to develop Best Practice Guidance for employers of seasonal agricultural workers to avoid the spread of coronavirus. This has been endorsed by Public Health England and also now been published on the AHDB website.
12.5 We are working with BEIS and HMRC to clarify guidance on National Minimum Wage legislation and the Harvest Casuals Scheme to help growers on-board and employ domestic workers. We also encouraging university and college students via targeted communications to work on farms following their exams and term’s end.
12.6 The Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA) has introduced a temporary licensing scheme to ensure critical food supply sectors are able to run as smoothly as possible during the Covid-19 outbreak. Temporary licences for food production will be granted to businesses operating within the wider labour supply industry and who wish to support labour providers who currently hold GLAA licences. Applications must be sponsored by an existing GLAA licence holder who is expected to carry out due diligence checks in line with the authority’s licensing standards.
12.7 On 18 May, eligibility for testing was expanded to cover all those in the UK who have any of the symptoms of coronavirus, this includes seasonal workers already in the UK. Employees can self-refer or their employers can make a referral. Testing can take place at a regional testing site, via home testing, at mobile testing units or satellite centres.
12.8 The recovery plan published on 11 May sets out the measures we plan to take to manage the risk of imported cases of coronavirus being introduced to the UK from overseas. We will be asking all travellers to self-isolate for 14 day in order to prevent re-infection from abroad and a second wave of cases. We will set out further detail in due course.
13. How effectively has the Government worked with businesses and NGOs to share information on disruptions to the supply chain and other problems, and to develop and implement solutions? How effectively have these actions been communicated to the public?
13.1 Defra has always maintained strong relationships across the food and drink sector that have proved integral to building the basis of our communications during the current crisis. The approach that the Department has taken to stakeholder communication has received a positive response. This includes consistently high feedback and click-through rate of our communications products, an example being our daily stakeholder bulletin, which highlights new and updated guidance and support available from Government and industry. It is sent to over 800 businesses by Defra officials each day. Our outreach continues to grow and has doubled since the start of the crisis.
13.2 Defra has maintained a clear message during lockdown; food and drink is an essential sector. This has been communicated by ministers and reinforced in letters of thanks from Defra’s Secretary of State and the #FoodHeroes social media campaign. The consistent reinforcement of these messages has been gratefully received by the sector and has helped to reassure workers and acknowledge their crucial contribution.
13.3 Beyond industry, stakeholders have been engaged in a number of different ways including bi-laterals with senior Defra staff, through a broad cross sector stakeholder forum, a cross sector delivery group, a voluntary and community sector disability leads group. The approach and group used has related to the stakeholders involved and whether the activity related to intelligence and information sharing or the testing of specific ideas in the development of our delivery plans. Our long list of stakeholders includes voluntary and community sector organisations, universities and local authorities, plus representatives from other government departments and the NHS.
Discussions with stakeholders
13.4 Defra hosts and participates in several pre-existing stakeholder fora and has worked to establish new ones where gaps have been identified. Throughout this engagement, the Department has ensured that intelligence gathered and issues raised are used to inform policy solutions.
13.5 Defra has rapidly established a series of regular discussions with stakeholders across the supply chain as well as with charities and Local Authorities, utilising existing forums and adding new ones as needed. Covid-19 specific fora exist to provide stakeholders with an opportunity to raise urgent issues requiring resolution, and have proven invaluable in informing the Department’s strategic response to the Covid-19 crisis.
13.6 A selection of the groups and examples of the intelligence that they have provided are set out below:
13. 7 Actions from these groups have been instrumental in Defra’s response to the crisis. Specific examples include:
13.8 In addition to the forums above, Defra officials engage regularly with SMEs in the food and drink sector to understand the issues that affect them specifically, feeding the intelligence gathered on financial risk and, for example, difficulties in accessing loans to HMT.
13.9 Defra continues to work with colleagues across Government in our stakeholder forums, inviting officials from, for example, DfT, DHSC, PHE), the FSA the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) and Department for International Trade (DIT), to provide information and answer questions from stakeholders directly.
13.10 Defra also works with stakeholders to understand where we can improve and update guidance to reflect actions that have resulted from our stakeholder engagement. From this, Defra has continually made improvements to our online guidance based on this feedback and have shared many updates across the industry. An example of this is the feedback that the Department received on guidance regarding takeaway food and drink. Comments on the guidance were raised in a Food-to-go stakeholder call and this led to amendments being made to clarify the Department’s position on the operation of takeaways during lockdown.
13.11 Defra has also led on media announcements on specific interventions and has continually highlighted in the media, on our media blog and on social media channels, how the Government has worked with industry to develop and implement solutions in real-time.
14. The Food Chain Emergency Liaison Group
14.1 The first Food Chain Emergency Liaison Group (FCELG) meeting took place on 6 March and the group has been meeting weekly since then. FCELG does not produce any formal minutes, however the FCELG Secretariat sends at least a weekly update to the group. This includes both proactive relevant government communications on key developments, as well as responses to queries which have been raised during the meeting plenary. This includes the circulation of relevant guidance published by government. Key issues identified by industry in FCELG meetings are fed into the relevant teams or departments to inform policy in these areas.
14.2 The FCELG includes members from Defra, PHE, FSA, BEIS, MHCLG and the Northern Ireland, Welsh and Scottish Governments.
Industry members of FCELG include:
Association Independent of Meat Suppliers
National Association of British and Irish Millers
Association Convenience Stores
British Retail Consortium
Chilled Food Association
Food and Drink Federation
Fresh Produce Consortium
Provision Trade Federation
Federation of Wholesale Distributors
Cold Chain Federation
British Soft Drinks Association
Beer and Pub Association
National Farmers Union
International Meat Trade Association
British Game Alliance
Agricultural Industries Confederation
15. The Food Resilience Industry Forum
15.1 The Food Resilience Industry Forum (FRIF) is a cross industry and government meeting which looks at the end-to-end supply chain for food in the UK during the Covid-19 pandemic. It is attended by senior representatives at an operational level of large and some medium-sized growers, processors, distributors and retailers, together with a wide range of trade bodies to represent the smaller organisations. FRIF meetings are also attended by representatives of the devolved administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and by all the Food Standards competent authorities. Initially the FRIF met daily, which has now reduced to twice a week. The purpose of the FRIF is to:
15.2 Following the call, the new intelligence gathered is shared with Defra's Covid-19 Emergency Operations Centre. Defra colleagues then work at pace to triage the issues and seek speedy resolution, including teams across Whitehall as appropriate. Progress is reported back on subsequent calls. A readout is used to capture the most prominent insights from our industry stakeholders that we heard on any particular call, as a proxy for those people in Defra and some selected Whitehall colleagues who were unable to attend the call in person. These readouts have been supplied to the committee alongside this evidence. However these readouts do not constitute minutes of the meetings there are no actions listed, and no follow-up on actions provided.
15.3 FRIF includes members from Defra, Cabinet Office, DfT, HMT, No.10, PHE, FSA, Food Standards Scotland, Northern Ireland and Welsh Governments.
Representative group members of FRIF include:
Agricultural Industries Federation
Association of Convenience Stores
Association of Independent Meat Suppliers
Beer and Pub Association
British Frozen Food Federation
British Game Alliance
British Meat Industry
British Meat Processors Association
British Poultry Council
British Retail Consortium
British Soft Drinks Association
Chilled Food Association
Cold Chain Federation
Federation of Bakers
Federation of Wholesalers and Distributors
Food and Drink Federation
Freight Transport Association
Fresh Produce Consortium
National Association of British and Irish Millers
Institute of Grocery Distribution
International Meat Trade Association
National Farmers’ Union
Provision Trade Federation
Road Haulage Association
Industry members of FRIF include:
Proctor and Gamble
C J Lang