Food industry leaders have blasted the UK government’s 'complacency and intransigence' over the workforce shortages created by its post-Brexit immigration policy.

In a public evidence session of the UK Trade and Business Commission focused on the cost of living crisis, food inflation and the UK Government’s new food strategy, industry witnesses described the difficulty they had encountered gaining access to the UK government to even discuss the matter, and said it would be a 'massive step forward' if such conversations could at least take place.

One witness, the outgoing chief executive of Food and Drink Scotland, James Withers, said that the labour market had been in 'turmoil' in Scotland, and food industry representatives were being met with a closed door whenever they tried to raise their concerns with the Home Office.

“We somehow have to find a way of unlocking the Home Office to have a more sensible conversation about all this, because I'll be honest, we cannot get in the door to have a conversation, a sensible conversation about immigration,” said Mr Withers. "Brexit has made absolutely nothing better and it’s made a lot of things worse.”

Similarly, English National Farmers Union head of food and farming, Phil Hambling, slammed the UK government for 'strangling labour policy and limiting capacity', citing this as the single biggest issue impacting horticulture.

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“The way we have treated labour policy since coming out of the European Union has absolutely been crippling for the entire food industry," said Mr Hambling. "The biggest single factor reducing growth in horticulture is access to people and labour. The ability for the industry to not only weather the storm like we see now, but also to grow in the future is predicated on having a labour policy that meets its needs.”

Witnesses to the commission also cited how Brexit has had a knock-on effect on the cost of living crisis, creating a weaker pound sterling and a 'tsunami' of red tape.

Dr Geoff Mackey, UK Trade and Business Commissioner and Director of Corporate Affairs and Sustainability Director for BASF, said: “The evidence today was clear, the government’s failure to address post-Brexit changes to immigration and the labour market is having a knock on effect not just on the current cost of living crisis but also on our long term food security.

“Ministers must meet with industry leaders urgently to agree a long-term plan which will prevent acute workforce shortages before they happen, rather than their current reactive sticking plaster strategy.”