We’ve known for some time that this will be a year of change. The UK’s exit from the EU has, of course, been fast approaching and now the UK is free to set its own rules, manage its own immigration, and agree its own trade deals.
But this level of regulatory freedom comes with its challenges. Tariffs may have been avoided in the eleventh hour Brexit deal, but logistical burden, administration and costs have not. Already we are seeing the impacts of new border controls and phytosanitary certification. Many businesses managed their trade to avoid the last couple of weeks of December and the first of January. But for those that couldn’t, I’d encourage them to let us know what challenges they are facing. We’re already hearing that shipments to Northern Ireland are so administratively burdensome that businesses are rethinking their plans. This is certainly a worry.
Coronavirus too has had such a significant impact on the food and hospitality industry that we are most definitely in for another abnormal year; and only time will tell if ‘normal’ will ever be the same again.
Retail trade remains strong, but the impacts on food service remain bleak. As a cider apple and hops grower, I am very worried about the future security of the food service sector and for the pubs and restaurants on which we rely. 2020 restrictions were catastrophic enough, but with the new Coronavirus variant and the inevitable lockdowns that have followed, it is hard to see a light at the end of the tunnel. The government implemented a range of measures in 2020 to support affected industries but there has been little support for the supply chain. It is clear that the government must reconsider this again, and quickly.
2021 is the first year in decades that the UK hasn’t been part of an EU-wide freedom of movement for its citizens. Thankfully, the NFU finally got the expansion of the seasonal workers pilot over the line before Christmas, and while 30,000 permits will not be enough for us to breathe easy, it certainly is a positive and important recognition from government that such as scheme is critical for our sector – the only sector of the economy to secure such a provision. So this year’s seasonal workforce will be predominantly made up of the pilot scheme workers, EU nationals with settled or pre-settled status, and domestic workers. It is on the latter group that we have been pushing for greater government support, such as for an employment scheme (similar to the Kickstart Scheme) that will help businesses attract and retain UK workers. We are also seeking a rapid response approach from government to address any shortages and we remain committed to not only ensuring we have enough workers in 2021, but that the pilot is made permanent to offer us greater security for the years ahead.
Finally, this week sees the first of two ballots launching which will influence the future of AHDB for horticulture and potatoes. Whether the vote is to abolish or retain the statutory levy, changes are certainly coming. A group of influential growers have made their voice heard by speaking in the trade press this week about their support for a statutory level, but with important reforms. Opinions remain divided amongst growers about the value of the statutory levy and on AHDB’s services. Much has been reported on the view of many growers that believe it offers little or no value at all, but it is important that all sides of the debate are aired. The NFU covered a range of grower opinions in the winter edition of our horticulture magazine, and it is right to highlight the views of this new group of growers too – you can read more about it here.
No industry ever stands still, and UK horticulture is no different. But the speed of change is greater than ever before and it is important we all adapt as quickly and effectively as we can. The NFU will be there every step of the way and I would encourage you to keep checking the NFU website or NFU app for the latest news. And feel free to contact us directly, we’re always here to help.
Chair, horticulture and potatoes board