A group of small and medium-sized food and drink manufacturers have accused the government of suffocating the sector’s staff of skills through needless red tape and unnecessary legislation.
A Parliamentary debate at Westminster, organised by the Food and Drink Federation, was attended by firms from across the country including Vimto, Bart Spices and Burnt Sugar, along with the sector skills council, Improve. Collectively, they argued that training schemes like NVQs and apprenticeships are out of touch with the factory floor and are not providing the sector with suitably skilled workers. In addition, they said over-regulation is preventing firms from improving staff efficiency themselves.
“A theme that came up time and time again was that the regulatory burden in areas such as health and safety and food hygiene is growing, and that it is squeezing resources from other areas of small companies’ businesses,” said Improve boss Jack Matthews.
Highlighting that 80 per cent of the UK’s 11,000 food and drink makers employed 50 or less staff, Matthews said that these small firms, with profit margins ill-disposed to absorb inefficiency in the midst of the credit crunch, were suffering from unfair and unclear government guidelines.
He added: “Every employer knows that health and safety and food hygiene are of paramount importance but the bureaucracy surrounding statutory requirements in these areas is unnecessary, and the training demands being placed on companies is eating into budgets which could be used to train staff in other areas where businesses are facing shortages.”
Food and drink producers are worried that they will be left short-staffed by dwindling numbers of migrant workers in a struggling economy no longer as appealing to Eastern Europeans as it once was. Mr Matthews said firms are willing to subsidise the training of staff themselves but that they need to be “freed from some of the statutory training requirements that are currently choking them.”