Government statistics for assessing one of agriculture’s biggest Brexit challenges have been branded “inadequate” by a watchdog committee of MPs.
Data currently compiled by Whitehall is insufficient for measuring agriculture’s labour needs, particularly around seasonal migrant workers, the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee said in a new report.
MPs launched an inquiry following claims that labour shortages could see food rotting in the fields - shortages that had reportedly worsened following the UK’s vote to leave the European Union.
Neil Parish MP, the committee’s chairman, said: “Without sufficient labour, both from the UK and overseas, agricultural and horticultural businesses cannot function. For a long time the industry has relied on foreign workers to perform temporary and permanent roles to make good shortages in the availability of UK labour; UK agriculture could not function without foreign labour.
“The period since 23 June 2016 has seen increased difficulties for businesses recruiting foreign labour and has presented severe challenges for the industry.”
Mr Parish added: “Government statistics do not properly measure the problem and should be reviewed so that the sector is confident that post-Brexit immigration policies are based on an accurate assessment of agriculture’s demand for, and supply of, foreign labour.”
The MPs’ report goes on to warn that the problems facing the sector could become a “crisis”, with the committee concerned that the industry had such differing experiences to those reported by the Government.
The report states: “The weight of evidence from a range of agricultural and horticultural businesses indicates that their sectors are facing considerable difficulties in recruiting and retaining labour.
“We do not share the confidence of the Government that the sector does not have a problem: on the contrary, evidence submitted to this inquiry suggests the current problem is in danger of becoming a crisis if urgent measures are not taken to fill the gaps in labour supply.”
A Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme could be reintroduced in “five or six months” if the Government identified a need - a position Ministers are currently reviewing - the committee said in their report.