Following the release of the UK Commission for Employment and Skills’ (UKCES) National Strategic Skills Audit for England on March 17 the food and drink sector responded with concerns.
Sector Skills Council, Improve felt that the audit had created a detrimental skills league table that underplayed the economic importance of the UKs largest manufacturing sector. Today Improve pressed for a re-assessment from government of the role of food and drink in future political strategy.
In the UKCES audit the role of advanced manufacturing and the development of green technology had high profiles and in his review of New Industry New Jobs (which coincided with the audit’s publication) Lord Manadelson emphasized that these high skilled industries would be the focus for government policy and development funding.
The food and drink industry meanwhile, which employs 500,000 nationwide in over 7000 companies, fell into the shade in the audit with the development of key sector skills ranking less prominently on the ‘traffic light’ action plan.
Agriculture also suffered a poor showing in the skills audit prompting Peter Martin, Chief Executive of sector skills council Lantra, to say “Purely on economic grounds, the industries that make up the food supply chain, which are worth in the region of £155 billion and employs 3.6 million people, make a major and growing contribution to the UK economy. This must be recognised by the UKCES”
Following a recent meeting with Lantra and Improve, the Chief Executive of the UKCES, Chris Humphries, has agreed to ‘look again’ at their report and will re-issue corrected information where appropriate.
Jack Matthews, Chief Executive at Improve, added, “This report effectively says that the food supply chain does not matter in this country”. Matthews fears that broadcasting this impression could lead to big brand names taking their manufacturing business elsewhere as a number of companies already have.
Given this scenario and the coming election Matthews looks forward with interest to what he sees as a critical reappraisal of food and drink’s contribution to the future of the national economy. “Correcting the information contained in the report is vitally important as it will form the basis on which national and regional skills funding strategies are determined. Whoever is in government next must recognise the true contribution the food industry makes to the economy and be prepared to support employers accordingly.”
However, the argument for taking agriculture and the food and drink industry more seriously is based on more than economics. Peter Martin compounded his case by pointing to the global challenge of food shortage. This issue was addressed in detail in the Cabinet Office report Food 2010 and the need to invest heavily in education, training, research and technology transfer for the food and drink industry was identified. Martin states “It is clear from our conversations with the UKCES that they had taken no account of this major report into the food supply chain in the UK; this is a staggering oversight.”
To read a summary of the National Strategic Skills Audit for England 2010 see Skills for Jobs: Today and Tomorrow.