July 12, 2022 11.19 am

Workforce shortages “not made worse” by Brexit, says senior council leader

Challenges exaserbated instead by COVID-19

A senior councillor says Brexit has not made staff shortages worse, instead saying that existing challenges were made “more acute” by COVID-19.

Lincolnshire County Council’s Executive Portfolio Holder for Economy and Place, Councillor Colin Davie was asked whether shortages had “been made worse” by the fallout of the 2016 referendum during a meeting of the authority’s Environment and Economy Scrutiny Committee on Tuesday.

Councillor Davie told members, however, that there was a recognised challenge “before Brexit” due to the birth rates and a”various other issues” seeing a “fall-off in the number of people going to enter the workforce”.

He told the committee there was a “real challenge” with around 125,000 vacancies across various sectors.

“It’s not been made worse by Brexit… the challenge was always going to be there, it’s now become more acute simply because of COVID where so many people who were in their 50s and 60s… have not decided to take early retirement,” he said.

He added there were further challenges in “holding on to our young people”.

“We have a lot of work going on,” he said.

“We definitely need to retain every youngster in our county and make it attractive for them to be here, to work here, to live here and to raise a family here.

“It’s big picture issue – workforce, and it’s not going to go away. It’s the greatest challenge our country faces for the next decade.”

The impact of Brexit on the workforce has been a longstanding issue with many fearing migrant workers leaving to seek work elsewhere, or being put off from coming to the country.

A recent government report by the House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee warned labour shortages “caused by Brexit and accentuated by the pandemic” were resulting in fruit suppliers having to leave produce rotting in fields.

“The food and farming sector has been suffering from acute labour shortages due principally to Brexit and the covid-19 pandemic,” said the report.

“We found clear evidence that labour shortages have badly affected the food and farming industry – threatening food security, the welfare of animals and the mental health of those working in the sector.

“Businesses have been badly hit, with the pig sector being particularly affected.

“The food sector is the UK’s largest manufacturing sector but faces permanent shrinkage if a failure to address its acute labour shortages leads to wage rises, price increases, reduced competitiveness and, ultimately, food production being exported abroad and increased imports.

“We found that labour shortages across the sector were causing crops to go unharvested and left to rot in fields, healthy pigs to be culled, and disruption to the food supply chain’s just-in-time delivery model.”

The review, carried out in May, called on the government to improve its short-term visa schemes, engage further with the industry, and build on Seasonal Workers schemes.