The British Chambers of Commerce has likened the Government’s temporary visa plan for lorry drivers and poultry workers as “throwing a thimble of water on a bonfire”.
Up to 10,500 lorry drivers and poultry workers will be able to apply for temporary UK visas as the Government seeks to limit disruption to supply chains in the run-up to Christmas.
Some 5,000 fuel tanker and food lorry drivers will be eligible to work in the UK for three months, until Christmas Eve. The scheme is also being extended to 5,500 poultry workers.
But BCC 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.”
Hannah Essex, Co-Executive Director of the British Chambers of Commerce, said: “Chambers of Commerce have been warning Government about critical labour shortages for months now – not just in the food and haulage industries but in hospitality, construction, the care sector and elsewhere in the economy. Whilst businesses will welcome that government is finally taking action, this scheme does not go far enough.
“BCC data has shown that 76% of hospitality businesses, and 82% of construction firms have faced recruitment difficulties in recent months. At the same time, we found 3 out of 4 exporters reporting no growth in sales in Q2.
“Businesses are facing the most difficult environment for a generation. On top of labour shortages – border delays, increased debt and the rising cost of materials, shipping and energy are all putting huge pressure on firms struggling to recover from the pandemic. All of these issues are hitting smaller firms the hardest.
“Attempts to address the deficit of HGV drivers and poultry workers is a step forward, but these industries are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the huge impact of the current labour shortages. Without a comprehensive plan to tackle this issue across the board we are facing a winter of lost opportunities for our businesses, hampering the UK’s economic recovery.”