Significant labour shortages could risk higher prices, reduce consumer choice, and stall Northern Ireland’s recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic, a food industry leader have warned.
Michael Bell, pictured left, Executive Director, Northern Ireland Food and Drink Association (NIFDA), said the present difficulties should act as a ‘wake up call’ for Ministers, and called on the Executive to address the issue urgently.
“Across the UK, the food and drink sector is experiencing serious difficulty in accessing labour, with Brexit and Covid-19 creating a perfect storm across the supply chain leaving many farmers, food processors and supermarkets struggling to meet demand,” he said.
“Figures released this week by Grant Thornton on behalf of the industry reveal that UK food and drink companies have an average vacancy rate of 13 per cent.
“To put that figure into perspective, that means there are potentially more than 500,000 vacancies in the industry across the United Kingdom.
“The problem is particularly acute in Northern Ireland, where some firms are operating at between 75-90 per cent of normal staffing levels.
“Additionally, a shortage of HGV drivers is causing serious issues across the food supply chain, from the farm to supermarket shelves.
“Food and drink is one of Northern Ireland’s most important sectors. It is the largest manufacturing industry in Northern Ireland, supporting some 113,000 jobs.
“A strong food and drink industry will be key to driving Northern Ireland’s post-Brexit economic growth.
“These difficulties should act as a wake up call for government. The current situation is unsustainable, and if it deteriorates we are looking at higher food prices, choice for consumers significantly curtailed and ultimately Northern Ireland’s recovery from the pandemic stalled.
“We will continue to engage heavily with politicians locally and nationally to address this issue and deliver workable solutions.”