'Too little, too late': Govt criticised for inaction on labour shortages

Neil Parish MP, Chair of EFRA Committee, has slammed the government for its inaction on the labour crisis
Neil Parish MP, Chair of EFRA Committee, has slammed the government for its inaction on the labour crisis

The chairman of a parliamentary committee has accused the government of doing 'too little, too late' on labour shortages in the food and farming sector.

Neil Parish, chairman of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee (EFRA), gave evidence this week as part of its inquiry into workforce shortages.

The MP for Tiverton and Honiton called for more action and warned that if the problem was not sorted, the UK would 'export its food industry'.

The industry blames the shortage of workers on farms and abattoirs on factors including the Covid-19 pandemic and Brexit.

For pig producers, a sector which has experienced the worst of the shortages, a lack of labour in processing plants has led to a huge backlog of pigs on farms.

The National Pig Association (NPA) warned last week that the backlog showed no signs of easing, with many farmers 'desperately short of space having exhausted contingency plans'.

At the inquiry, Mr Parish said the food and farming sector had been telling government since early this year about labour shortages which had caused supply difficulties.

"Government has done too little, too late on almost every front," he said, adding that it must 'face up to its responsibilities'.

"It must create a strategy to give farmers and food producers confidence so they can continue to deliver good British food to our plates.

"If this is not sorted, we’ll end up exporting our food industry and importing our food,” he said.

During the session, Defra Secretary George Eustice suggested a lack of labour of labour was a 'commercial risk' for food businesses, along the lines of arable farmers having a crop impacted by aphids.

At which point, Mr Parish suggested the latter would be considered an 'act of God or an act of nature', which he suggested was not the case for 'not having having enough processor workers and not being able to slaughter your pigs'.

He said labour shortages were out of farmers' control and insisted there was 'no expectation farmers would have to cover that as a commercial loss'.

During the session, Mr Parish and members of the committee grew impatient at the lack of clear answers as to how the government intended to address the situation.

“How much more of Rome needs to burn before you put some kind of plan together?” Mr Parish asked the Defra Secretary.