Worker crisis threatening future of businesses

By Barrie Hudson - 1 October 2021

Business

Businesses in the South West desperately need a roadmap out of the current labour crisis with a clear plan for the future of our workforce.

If no such roadmap becomes available, the region’s key sectors may suffer irreparable damage, according to the British Chambers of Commerce South West (BCCSW). 

The organisation, which represents thousands of companies in the region, says the Government’s plan to provide temporary visas for drivers and food workers is welcome, but simply a short-term measure when a long-term plan is needed to match the ambition for a more domestic workforce. 

Stuart Elford, Chair of BCCSW, said: “The move to rely less on EU workers has not been outrightly opposed by businesses but the Government cannot simply turn the labour supply off without a clear plan. 

“Our region is desperately trying to find workers to pick our crops and drive our lorries, but the supply is simply too thin thanks to a lack of planning. 

“The future of business depends on a long-term plan being presented as soon as possible, although this should have been available from the outset. 

“The temporary visas solution is exactly that - temporary. It’s also insufficient in its scope - there are too few visas being offered and nowhere near the number needed to address the drastic problems we’re seeing in supply chains. 

“Government must act quickly to expand this scheme and follow up with structured action to tackle a crisis that threatens the future of sectors that underpin our region’s economy.  

“We call on ministers to work with businesses to develop this as soon as possible.” 

The South West is home to some of the UK’s biggest food producers as well as key ports and haulage industries. 

These companies help keep the country running and their very existence is under long-term threat because of a lack of planning, BCCSW leaders say. 

British Chambers of Commerce President, Baroness Ruby McGregor-Smith CBE said: “Government has made clear its priority is to transition from a reliance on EU workers to a focus on the domestic workforce, and businesses have been ready to participate in this, but it is a long-term project.   

“A managed transition, with a plan agreed between Government and business, should have been in place from the outset. Instead, the supply of EU labour was turned off with no clear roadmap as to how this transition would be managed without disruption to services and supply chains.  

“Now some action has been taken, but additional testing will take time and the low number of visas offered is insufficient. Even if these short-term opportunities attract the maximum amount of people allowed under the scheme, it will not be enough to address the scale of the problem that has now developed in our supply chains. This announcement is the equivalent of throwing a thimble of water on a bonfire.  

“Government should be prepared to significantly expand the number of visas issued within this scheme and convene a summit that brings business and government together to find both immediate and longer-term solutions to the many challenges facing firms throughout the UK.  

“Without further action, we now face the very real prospect of serious damage to our economic recovery, stifled growth as well as another less than happy Christmas for many businesses and their customers across the country.” 

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