Brexit Threat: One-Third of Food Industry Workers are EU Nationals, Claims Report

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10 Jul 2017 --- Key growth opportunities for the UK’s food and drink industry have been highlighted in a recent report commissioned by the Food and Drink Federation (FDF).

The industry-wide report, by Grant Thornton, explores the obstacles the industry faces, the unique geographical spread of the sector and its importance to the wider UK economy.

The findings also reveal the extent to which exiting the EU may threaten the industry's future productivity should the sector not receive further support from the Government to help manage the transition.

In terms of skills, there remains great uncertainty regarding future access to EU workers, who are highly-valued and make up 32.5 percent of the industry's skilled and high-skilled workforce.

Despite misconceptions, there is an even mix of skills within the sector – less than 9 percent of roles are low-skilled. Meanwhile, 40,000 of the industry's ageing workforce are expected to retire over the next decade and 140,000 new workers are required by 2024 to fill the looming skills gap.

The key findings in terms of trade show that between 2006 and 2015 global food exports had a combined annual growth rate of 7 percent. During the same period UK food and drink exports grew by 4 percent. 

EU nations, Ireland, France, the Netherlands and Germany were noted as key trading partners and the EEA remains the market with the greatest perceived potential for the industry.

Meanwhile, China, India and the UAE are seen as the top three markets that businesses surveyed would like to target.

The key findings relating to innovation show that 89 percent of respondents are involved in new product development with many manufacturers engaged in long-term calorie reduction programs.

Only 54 percent of manufacturers surveyed had accessed Government R&D tax credits, which are not seen as a whole industry innovation solution and almost half of respondents (46 percent) are involved in an on-going collaboration with higher education or research initiatives.

What are the report's key recommendations for Government?

Work with education providers across the UK to increase availability of food and drink manufacturing specific apprenticeship training is a top recommendation as is enhancing the image of the food and drink industry and raising awareness of the range of career opportunities on offer.

Prioritizing food and drink as the UK's largest manufacturing industry in relation to any new immigration policy and working with industry to reduce product sugar levels while taking an holistic approach to calorie reformulation.

Other recommendations are to further facilitate innovation through support for fundamental and applied research, encourage more food and drink manufacturers to export to help grow the UK's 2.2 percent share of the global food and drink export market and work in partnership with industry to scale-up its provision of specialist export support.

“This detailed report by Grant Thornton charts the future shape of our industry for many years to come. It is a welcome assessment of the significant opportunities available to boost the productivity of the food and drink industry at a time of great economic uncertainty,” says Ian Wright CBE, Director General, Food and Drink Federation.

“The issues facing the food and drink industry are complex, but if we find the right solutions there is great reward - not just for our sector and the wider economy. We believe a new sector deal, working in partnership with Government and the 'farm-to-fork' supply chain, will harness this potential.”

Sustain Alliance Takes Stock of Brexit
Sustain seeks to achieve the best possible outcome for food, farming and fishing as Britain prepares to leave the EU. 

At a recent meeting, the alliance focused on identifying priorities for action in pursuit of the common goal of a Better Food Britain as part of an action plan for Brexit. 

More than 50 organizations got together, coordinated by Sustain, to take stock of priorities for Brexit and the forthcoming Repeal, Trade, Agriculture and Fisheries Bills announced in the Queen’s Speech in June.

The meeting also considered how organizations can work together to engage the public and to inform and influence decision-makers.

Participants represented organizations working on the diverse issues represented in the Sustain alliance – food safety and quality standards; consumer rights and protections; environmental protection; workers’ rights; measures to tackle trafficking and modern slavery; labor conditions and skills; sustainable international development; organic food and farming standards; animal welfare; animal and plant health; chemical and pesticide controls; poverty and inequality reduction; and access to justice.

The Sustain alliance is working together to secure a food system that is healthy, fair, humane and sustainable, playing its part in tackling climate change. 

“Common principles must apply to how we deal with farming, fisheries, health and social policy, as well as to new international trade deals. Together, we are campaigning for a Better Food Britain,” says Sustain. 

At the “taking stock” meeting, updates were shared from key “hub organizations” coordinating work on Brexit: Sustain (including alliance Sustainable Farming and Sustainable Fish campaigns); Greener UK, Unlock Democracy, and the Trade Justice Movement, as well as participants from specialist organizations.

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