MPs criticise policy as picker crisis worsens

A cross-party group of MPs has condemned the UK government’s approach to the Seasonal Workers Pilot (SWP) scheme, pointing to the risk recruitment delays now pose to this year’s crops.

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) select committee chair Neil Parish MP said, “British growers have been placed at the bottom of the Home Office’s priorities list, and the unnecessary uncertainty could prove costly for producers. Despite last year’s ‘Pick for Britain’ pilot scheme, our report made it clear that overseas labour is still very much needed, and the Government’s efforts to recruit more domestic labour cannot hope to be sufficient for this summer’s harvest.”

The group of MPs also called for the SWP scheme to be broadened to include other food supply chain and agricultural sectors, and said it was concerned about recent evidence of shortages of skilled workers such as official vets working in abattoirs.

His comments were reported as Scottish soft fruit growers told local television that fruit could be left to rot in polytunnels due to a shortage of workers. NFU Scotland Horticulture committee chair Iain Brown said the UK government needed to take urgent action to prevent fresh produce being left to rot.

“The announcement of one additional [Seasonal Worker Programme] operator was only made at the end of April, the processing of these visas takes six weeks,” Brown said. “So that’s not going to help the start of the fruit and vegetable season in Scotland. The effect will be the crops are not all harvested, which would be hugely disappointing and financially have serious consequences for businesses in Scotland. So, with some urgency we need these visas issued to allow workers to get onto farms.”

Picture caption: Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) select committee chair Neil Parish MP

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