SCOTTISH FOOD and drink organisations are calling for urgent government action to tackle post-Brexit labour shortages in order to avert a Christmas food crisis.

In a joint letter sent to the UK and Scottish Governments, industry bodies have stressed that deepening labour concerns are putting the growth, viability and security of many Scottish businesses in jeopardy.

Together they have called for immediate action 'to save Christmas', warning of worsening supply chain disruption and impending food shortages during the peak winter trading period.

In a recent survey by the Food and Drink Federation, of the 88 Scottish businesses that responded, 93% currently had job vacancies and 97% felt that they would struggle to fill vacancies in the future.

The letter read: “Businesses are looking at all the options they have at their disposal to retain and recruit. It’s not working, and we are now rapidly approaching a crisis. It is now clear that many people who would traditionally have been attracted to work in the food industry from abroad can no longer do so. Online and delivery companies have also recruited workers during the pandemic and there is no sign of people returning to the industry.

"As an industry we are determined to do what we can to tackle this issue and will continue to progress initiatives and support businesses, but it is very clear that we need immediate help in order to do so.”

The food and drink industry is calling on the UK Government to introduce a 12-month Covid recovery visa for the food and drink supply chain; to commission an urgent review by the Migration Advisory Committee of the needs of the food and drink sector; and to waive the fees for employment visas for the food and drink supply chain until 2022.

The sector has also asked the Scottish Government to embed support for automation in funding programmes; to work with the Scotland Food and Drink Partnership to continue to promote the industry as a great career destination; and to provide opportunities through apprenticeships and other schemes.

SNP MSP Emma Harper argued that the labour shortage was the UK Government's fault and responsibility: “Their catastrophic hard Brexit and immigration policies have had a massive detrimental impact on the labour market across Scotland. It was also implemented in the middle of a crippling pandemic when supply chains were already under severe pressure.

“If the Tories continue to deny reality to put politics before people, many food and drink sector businesses will go to the wall and many Scots workers will lose their livelihoods.”

Managing Director of East Of Scotland Growers, Andrew Faichney, pointed out the costly impact on Scottish growers: “The haulage issue looks likely to remain, which is fundamentally driven by labour availability. Of even greater significance is the on-farm labour, with around 80% of the required workforce on farm, workers have been earning above budget income due to level of overtime required.

"The fear is that these workers will head home earlier than required due to reaching their own financial target. They are actually starting to disappear off farm already, where historically we have relied on workers finishing the fruit season and migrating over to field veg in the months of September and October.”