Government lack of planning over worker crisis threatening future of firms, warn business leaders

October 3, 2021

The South West’s key sectors could suffer irreparable damage unless the government starts to tackle the shortage of workers by easing EU visa restrictions, the region’s business leaders today warned.

But even providing temporary visas for jobs such as drivers and food workers would only be a short-term measure and ministers must also come up with a long-term plan, according to the British Chambers of Commerce South West (BCCSW). 

The group, which represents thousands of firms across the South West, said the government’s lack of planning was damaging the economy of the region as home to some of the UK’s biggest food producers as well as key ports and haulage industries.

BCCSW chair Stuart Elford, pictured, said while the move to rely less on EU workers had not been outrightly opposed by businesses, the government could not “simply turn the labour supply off without a clear plan”.

“Our region is desperately trying to find workers to pick our crops and drive our lorries, but the supply is simply too thin thanks to a lack of planning,” he said.

“The future of business depends on a long-term plan being presented as soon as possible, although this should have been available from the outset. 

“The temporary visas solution is exactly that – temporary. It’s also insufficient in its scope – there are too few visas being offered and nowhere near the number needed to address the drastic problems we’re seeing in supply chains.”

He said the government must act quickly to expand this scheme and follow up with structured action to tackle a crisis that threatened the future of sectors that underpin the region’s economy.

“We call on ministers to work with businesses to develop this as soon as possible,” he added.

Member firms of BCCSW, which includes the Swindon & Wiltshire Initiative, contribute more than a £100bn to the region’s economy and account for more than 80% of its exports.

The BCCSW’s warning echoes the results of surveys from a number of national business groups, including the Institute of Directors (IoD) and the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC).

According to the IoD, business confidence has “fallen off a cliff” due to supply bottlenecks, rising energy prices, fuel shortages and looming tax increases combined to stifle growth.

In its latest health check it said there were fears that Britain was on course for a dose of 1970s-style stagflation.

And the BCC warned of an “autumn storm” of rising taxes, escalating costs, labour shortages and supply disruption as government Covid-19 support schemes come to an end.

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