As the UK faces shortages of labour and food, the country's food and drink sector is calling for a 12-month Covid-19 Recovery Visa.

The visa would enable all involved throughout the supply chain to recruit critical roles, such as HGV drivers, as a short-term response to labour shortages.

A report has been sent to government ministers today (Friday, August 27) highlighting the impact the pandemic and the UK’s post-Brexit immigration policy is having on the sector’s ability to recruit key workers.

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The report highlights an average vacancy rate of 13 per cent and estimates there are more than 500,000 vacancies across food and drink businesses.

The report suggests that the government should also commit to a permanent, revised and expanded Seasonal Worker Scheme for UK horticulture to ensure it is flexible and large enough to meet the industry’s workforce needs.

It also recommends an urgent review by the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) on the impact of ending free movement on the food and farming sector, in the same way it is doing for adult social care.

NFU vice president Tom Bradshaw said: “At the very start of the supply chain, farm businesses are feeling the pressure.

"For example, horticulture farms are struggling to find the workforce to pick and pack the nation’s fruit and veg, with some labour providers seeing a 34 per cent shortfall in recruitment.

“Farm businesses have done all they can to recruit staff domestically, but even increasingly competitive wages have had little impact because the labour pool is so limited – instead only adding to growing production costs.

“It is simplistic to argue that the end of furlough will see many more people meeting this shortfall, but furloughed workers are concentrated in urban areas and not where many agri-food roles are located.

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"A solution to this crisis will need the right people with the right skills and training available in rural areas where many roles are based.

“A short term Covid Recovery Visa, alongside a permanent Seasonal Workers Scheme, would be an effective and, frankly, vital route to help the pressing needs of the industry today.

"It would also give us time to invest in the skills and recruitment of our domestic workforce, helping to provide long-term stability so we can recruit the people we need to continue to deliver quality, nutritious and affordable food for the nation.”

The Food and Drink Federation’s chief executive, Ian Wright CBE, said: "The report makes it crystal clear that today’s labour shortages are caused by a multitude of structural factors beyond those created by Covid-19 and the end of the Brexit transition period.

“The recommendations set out within this report, including the Covid Recovery Visa and measures to support domestic training and skills development, the adoption of new technologies and career promotion, provide industry and the government with highly practical solutions.

"They will ensure that the food supply chain continues to thrive with a strong and skilled workforce.

"However, it is also evident that without fast action the labour challenges will continue.

"If they do, we can expect unwelcome consequences such as reduced choice and availability for consumers, increased prices, and reduced growth across the domestic food chain.”

Nick Allen, chief executive of the British Meat Processors Association, said: “The meat industry has been severely impacted by the current labour crisis, which is not only resulting in shortages in shops but is also beginning to have increasing upstream impacts on farms."